Last night I saw the new Tina Fey movie “Baby Mama” about a 37 year-old, single career woman who wants to have a baby. Unfortunately her doctor claims that her uterus is poorly shaped and therefore unlikely to conceive, so she hires a surrogate. The movie itself is a comedy, but the plot line is pretty fascinating as it tackles the ethical dilemmas involved in this increasingly popular practice.
Personally, this is an issue I have struggled to categorize–is it right or wrong? On the one hand, there seems to be something inherently wrong with “renting” another person’s womb and using it to grow a baby. On the other hand, women grow babies in their wombs all the time–why does it matter if the baby is genetically linked to the surrogate or not?
Given the moral ambiguities of this issue, as well as the rising number of cases (The Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART) has tracked a 30% increase over the past three years. That number is likely an undercount, since many clinics do not report births to SART; industry experts estimate that there are as many as 1,000 surrogate births a year.) it is important that Christians think through it. What does our faith have to say about this? I would like to take a moment to examine some of those questions now…
Before delving into the murkier moral waters of this debate, there is one clear abuse that has sparked a great deal of controversy, and that is the socioeconomic background of the surrogates. Both the New York Times and the Boston Globe have reported on the practice of “outsourcing” wombs to poor Indian women. Sadly, there is a trend in the surrogacy movement in which wealthy families are using the bodies of poor, needy women to bear their children. This practice is worrying because it echoes a time in our nation’s history when the poor and marginalized were treated as property to be used, their bodies serving the wealthy as nothing more than a machine or an animal.
So while these women may, in fact, benefit from the deal financially, we should be extremely wary of any mindset that enables us to use the bodies of the poor in such a way. That is not a direction in which our society should head. But what about the cases in which the surrogates are socioeconomically “equal” to the families they help? What should Christians consider in these instances?
Even in a relationship of relative equality, the surrogate-parent relationship is frequently messy. Even if the surrogate is a close friend of the parents, it is tough to avoid treating the surrogate as some sort of incubator for your baby. In “Baby Mama,” the protagonist monitors her surrogate’s eating habits and lifestyle, forcing her to only consume those foods that will improve her health and the health of the baby. And this aspect of the film is not far from the truth–a mother interviewed in Newsweek requested that her surrogate not pump gas during the pregnancy. She also sent the surrogate green cleaning products that were safer for the child, all this to ensure that the incubator’s quality was maximized.
So regardless of the socioeconomic standing of the surrogate, the reality is that you are using another person’s body to get the life that you want. This stark reality may be softened if you have a relationship with the surrogate, or if the surrogate remains a part of the family’s life following the child’s birth, but in a very real sense parents are “renting” another woman’s womb.
That leads me to the final question–what is the difference between parents who use a surrogate’s womb to have a child, versus parents who use their own womb to have a child? Well if you’re speaking from a purely functional basis, reducing the woman’s body to her ability to conceive, then there’s no problem at all. If you can get pregnant while another woman cannot, then why not share the wealth?
But in my opinion, there is more to it than that. While the rampant cases of unwed mothers and the growing number of abortions in America have subsequently devalued the sacred miracle that is the creation of life, human life is about far more than the biological fertilization of an egg. There is more to this process than splitting cells in the uterus’ biologically hospitable environment.
On the contrary, the creation of life and subsequent nurturing of that life is to be a reflection of the Father’s relationship with us. After all, Scripture refers to us as God’s children, which means there is an aspect to parenting that reflects the essence of our relationship with God. With that in mind, the topic of surrogacy quickly becomes a question of theology.
What, then, are we to draw from such an analogy? How does the traditional pregnancy process reflect our relationship with God? Well in the same way that we get life from the loving intimacy and sacrifice of the Trinity, especially as evidenced at the cross, children are born of the loving intimacy and sacrifice that a man and wife have in marriage. And not only does a married couple love one another this way, but they love their children with that degree of sacrifice as well.
Parents essentially lay themselves down for their children, surrendering their schedules, their free time, their sleep, their finances, and even their bodies–all for the sake of their child. In fact, the physical surrendering of one’s own body that we see in pregnancy, surrendering for the sake of another, echoes the surrender and sacrifice of Christ’s own body on the cross. In this way, pregnancy can reflect a love so profound that it echoes the intimacy and sacrifice of Christ’s love for us.
Surrogacy, on the other hand, has a slightly different approach. The mother is not laying down her own body to care for and nurture the child–she is using someone else’s body. And the woman who DOES care for the child so intimately during pregnancy will then leave the child once he or she is born.
That said, surrogacy reflects the God-child analogy less fully because the parent relies on another person to sacrifice her body for their child. It would be like God saying, “I love you so much that I’m going to ask some other person to sacrifice for you.” It is this concept of using someone else for your own ends, as opposed to giving of yourself for the sake of another, that conflicts with the relationship between God and His children.
Granted, the scenario isn’t quite so black and white given that many women CAN’T have children, which means they aren’t given the option to care for a child in this way. It would be one thing if a woman used a surrogate because she is unable to have a child herself, and quite another if a woman used a surrogate solely because she didn’t want to lose her figure.
What’s more, we must be careful that my above logic isn’t taken so far as to undermine the legitimacy of adoption. Just because a woman does not bear a child does not mean she cannot have a relationship with her child that reflects the love of God. Plus, Scripture itself uses the language of adoption, so in adopting children that do not belong to us, we are mimicking God’s adoption of humanity.
What I am saying is that we must be very, VERY wary of the mindset into which surrogacy can tempt us. It not only tempts us to view other women’s bodies as objects to be used for bearing children, but it distorts the pregnancy process in a way that views children more as a biological process that simply needs an incubator, as opposed to a miracle of life that echoes our very identity in God.
All in all, I find it hard to take one definitive stance on surrogacy. I tried to think of Scripture that might apply, but I was only able to come up with overarching themes that could speak truth into the discussion, so if you know of any verses please post them. But while I am hesitant to take a hard-line stance, I will admit that I have serious concerns. While feining a value for human life by going to extremes to produce it, surrogacy can actually devalue human life, as well as undermining the centrality of marriage in beginning a family. As the movie errantly taught, “You don’t have to be married to have a baby.” That teaching might be true from a technical standpoint–I could go out and get pregnant tomorrow with some random guy off the street–but is it God’s best? No.
So before we embrace the scientific advances of surrogacy, let’s look down the road to where this trend is taking us. We may find ourselves in a place we did not intend to go. But in addition to all of that, let me remind you of how many children are orphaned in this world. The numbers are astronomical, so perhaps we should reconsider spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to reproduce ourselves through surrogacy, when there are already so many living, breathing children that need families of their own.
What do you think of this isse??
Sharon, it is amazing that this is even an issue to deal with, but in no means surprising. One thing you didn’t mention is the fact that those wealthy mothers that are using poorer international women choose to do so so that they will not be left with the physical effects such as stretch marks and added fat. It is absolutely atrocious that our culture can value those things more highly than the love a mother displays in carrying her child. Men and women alike contribute to this problem in an array of ways, but I think the effects ought to be deeply sobering. Doesn’t this raise bigger questions regarding what do we value the most? who are we worshiping? and what is the truly successful life? Thanks for raising this concern. It is one that many of us in different fields of occupation and social influence will face head on.
this is an extremely long post. really long to sit down and read. but, the first part of it i read was good. good issues to throw around.
I could not agree with you more. Very well thought out, Sharon. God has gifted you. Thank you for taking the time to think through all the aspects of this issue. Thinking things through and comparing modern-day issues with scripture isn’t done enough. Keep it up.
This was very hard for me to read. I am a women struggling with issues of fertility, and most likely will not be able to sacrifice my body for a child. We are seeking all options available to us including this one. I will not be renting another women’s body, using it as an incubator for my own selfish desires. I actually think this process will be hard for me, to watch someone else bear the child that I was unable to bear. We want a child, our child, made from our DNA, the women we have been speaking with is also a christian and wants to make this sacrifice for us, to bless us in this way. this issue is definitely not black and white. The issues you bring up of women using others for selfish reasons is real, but this does not make the actual thing all bad. I would like to think of this as a gift from God to us, not that we are making a sinful decision or damaging the image of God and his beauty in creation. I would love to read your response to this.
I really appreciate your honesty in sharing your feelings on this topic, and it is because of stories like yours that I find it hard to take a definitive stance. Were I married and unable to bear a child myself, I’m not sure what I would do, so I am hesitant to cast judgment on others. There is a part of me that deeply desires to have a child that has come directly from my genes, so I sympathize greatly.
However, I do think it’s important to keep ourselves in check when it comes to scientific advances–just because we CAN do something, doesn’t mean we SHOULD, so we need to examine the long-term implications of our actions. I had an ethics professor in seminary who encouraged us to think about the culture that our actions contribute to, so while it’s tempting to only think about the individual scenarios, we need to keep in mind the larger picture as well.
The desire to make a child with your spouse comes directly from the heart of God, but we should nevertheless be wary of a mentality in which certain kinds of children are more preferable than others (ie. biological children are better than adopted ones). If we are not careful to guard against such thinking, we might find ourselves in a culture that genetically engineers a child’s hair color and eye color to match the parents’ preference–a direct echo of the mindset behind Nazi Aryanism. With the scientific possibilities before us, we must always make sure we are not treating children as a commodity to fit our schedule, preferences and needs.
Similarly, we must be careful not to engage in other practices that would treat children as having value only when they come to us a certain way. So many children in this world need homes, but because they are not related to us biologically, we feel less of a burden to care for them.
For this reason, I personally believe that ALL families, regardless of whether you have fertility struggles or not, should at least consider adoption. God adopted us as His children when we were least desirable, so if families are financially able, they should certainly consider having fewer biological children so as to make room for an adopted one.
So all of that to say, I would never draw a hard, fast line as to when surrogacy is or is not right since there are clear abuses, as well as justifiable cases. What I am asking is that we all think long and hard about the cultural mentality we are feeding into. No matter what decision we make, we should always make sure it is a mentality that values ALL children equally as made in the image of God. What may seem like a curse to us may actually be a blessing to the world–such was true of the cross.
God’s blessings on this journey–I am sure that whatever decision you come to, God will use you to raise a wonderful, Christ-centered family!
Sharon, I am a commited Christian that is praying on offering to be a surrogate for a couple in my church. I am very close to you geographically (Apex, NC), and I don’t feel it is coincidence that I stumbled upon this recent page of yours in a random google search about Christianity and surrogacy.
There is one esample of surrogacy in the OT, when Sarah arranges for her husband Abraham to conceive a child with her servant, Hagar. It did not work out well, Hagar began to feel superior, and did not want to relinquish the child. The women ended up hating eachother, and the son, Ishmael, was cast out along with Hagar after the birth of Sarah’s son Isaac. So, the one story of surrogacy in the Bible was not a positive one.
So, I am torn, to say the least. Thank you for your words on the matter, I will keep them in my heart as I continue to pray on this matter.