As fertility specialists continue to push the limit of what is possible when it comes to having children, the foundation of the family continues to change and become more complex. Same-sex couples, parenting partnerships, single adults having children without romantic relationship and others have all entered into a family building experimentation. In this world of artificial reproduction where anything goes, there is little oversight and protection for the children born and raised in alternative environments.
The Role of Same-Sex Couples
Surrogacy is an option utilized by an increasing number of male same-sex couples, and some reports indicate that those couples are the primary motivators for the growth of the industry. Some celebrity male couples that have had children through surrogacy include actor Neil Patrick Harris and his partner, singer Ricky Martin, interior designer Nate Berkus and his partner, and Elton John, whose partner David Furnish is listed as the "mother" on the birth certificates of their two sons.
Many male same-sex couples pursue surrogacy arrangements in order to have a child that has a genetic link to one or both of the partners. Using IVF, sperm from one or both partners and a donor egg are used to create one or more embryos implanted into the surrogate. Another reason for surrogacy is to avoid the strenuous home review process that comes with adoption. Elton John admitted that he had been turned down for adoption because of his age and rigorous touring schedule. Surrogacy allows celebrities and wealthier members of society to bypass the adoption system, which has a more strict evaluation process that could potentially identify a problematic home that is not in the best interest of a child.
Most choose to have a gestational carrier rather than a traditional surrogacy arrangement to avoid potential legal complications if the mother decides that she wants custody. The surrogates themselves usually prefer homosexual couples over heterosexual couples, avoiding the complex emotions of the intended mother who was unable to have the child on her own. These couples also use an egg donor, which means there are at least two women involved in the creation of the child, the carrier and the donor.
Single Men Turn to Surrogacy
In many ways, money runs the world of surrogacy and artificial reproductive technologies. If someone has enough money, there is often no limit to the family that person can create. For example, Portuguese born international soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo has four children. He has full custody of his oldest son, Cristiano Jr., born to an unknown surrogate in 2010. He also has twins from a U.S. based surrogate near San Diego, California, who were born just five months before his girlfriend gave birth to their daughter.
Cristiano was the highest paid athlete in the world in 2017 and has more than 120 million Facebook and Instagram followers. In explaining why his son, and now twins, will grow up without a relationship with their mother, he said, "For me it is not a problem. I will say in the world, many kids don't have mom, don't have dads or dads die or moms die … Cristiano has a dad, an unbelievable dad."
The advancements of reproductive technology means that men don't need a physical or emotional relationship with a woman in order to have a child, and as a result they deny their children the crucial mother-child relationship. Elton John admitted, "It's going to be heartbreaking for (his son, Zachary) to grow up and realize he hasn't got a mummy." Creating a family artificially means that a woman or women are contracted to provide eggs and their womb for the service of single/gay men and couples, which bypasses God's design for human procreation, and is morally and spiritually questionable.
In another example, surrogate Melissa Cook from California was involved in a custody fight with a man from Georgia who contracted with her to give birth to one child. Due to the surrogate's age, multiple embryos were implanted and she became pregnant with triplets. The man asked her to selectively reduce the number of the children she was carrying because he said he couldn't afford triplets but she refused. After the babies were born, the man took custody of all three children.
Cook knew that the man was deaf before she entered into the surrogacy contract, but she later learned that the children were entering into a possibly unstable household. According to court records from a custody battle between Cook and the intended father, the father's sister claimed that her brother cannot speak, struggles with sign language and is prone to angry fits. She also stated that since their birth, the children have lived in "deplorable conditions" where they occasionally eat off the unclean floor in the basement where the life-long bachelor lives with his parents. In addition, the sister stated for the court that the intended father also struggled to keep his son's diapers clean and the children have been hospitalized for complications with poor hygiene. Cook lost her court case to take custody of the children.
This and other cases raise questions about the lack of screening that intended parents go through on the path to surrogacy. If this man had tried to go through the adoption process, would he have passed the home study if some of these allegations were true? The answer is, probably not. In the world of surrogacy, women are viewed as a "purchased commodity subject to property and contract laws" and not as someone who might have the best interest in the child. There are few legal options if the surrogate realizes that the child she is carrying may live in a risky or dangerous environment after birth.
In many ways surrogacy seems like an appropriate avenue for couples struggling with infertility; however, there are many moral problems and ethical questions that couples should consider. It is an unregulated industry that takes advantage of the bodies, health and altruistic nature of women for money. The reality is that without regulation, stories about surrogacy and artificial reproduction may become even more bizarre and exploitative.
It is possible that because of the lack of regulation individuals with criminal intent are using the surrogacy process to create children for slavery, sexual abuse or for other purposes. In a world where money talks and children are the product, there is always the possibility of exploitation and every step should be taken to protect children – born and preborn - who cannot protect themselves. The United Nations takes the position that as surrogacy spreads, children risk being "commodities." According to the UN, "There is no right to have a child under international law. Children are not goods or services that the State can guarantee or provide. They are human beings with rights."
There's a lot wrong with surrogacy. A surrogate mother often has few or no legal rights to the child she is carrying, she is at a higher risk for a variety of pregnancy related complications like pre-eclampsia, and surrogates are usually more economically vulnerable than the intended parents, which creates a power imbalance. Surrogacy is often portrayed as a selfless decision, but the commodification of women's bodies and children's lives should encourage individuals and married couples to deeply consider the impact of the decision to pursue surrogacy as an alternative reproductive option.