‘Wombs for rent’ industry now legal in Minnesota?

Without any significant consideration, the Minnesota Legislature is poised to create a commercial surrogacy business that would essentially legitimize the buying and selling of children between two contracting parties.

This past week, the Commercial Surrogacy Bill (SF 2627/HF 291) passed almost unnoticed through the one Senate committee to which it was assigned, the language of the bill having been revealed only moments before the hearing. A House version of the bill will likely get a floor vote with no policy committee hearings.

In the rush to pass this bill, there has been little scrutiny of the consequences for women, children and society of creating a commercial surrogacy business in Minnesota.

Baby-selling, plain and simple

Commercial surrogacy, an arrangement where the intended parent or parents contract with a woman and pay her to carry a child for money, is a relatively recent phenomenon that has evoked ethical debates on the morality of renting out a womb to create and carry new human life.

In “Donum Vitae” (“The Gift of Life,” the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s 1987 instruction), the Church recognized the deep desire adults might have for wanting a child that is biologically related to them. Infertility issues can affect the pain and strength of this desire, and well-meaning people, perhaps our family or friends, may have used surrogacy to make parenthood a reality.

Yet, whatever feelings we have for them or their beautiful children, a child is not an object to which one has a “right.” Creating a commercial surrogacy industry does not promote a culture of life and human dignity. Rather, it treats women and children as objects and commodities who become ripe for more exploitation.

Surrogacy agreements are happening in Minnesota in an absence of clear public policy about the contractual validity of these agreements or their permissibility as a matter of public policy.

In some states and several European countries, the practice of surrogacy is completely banned because it treats children as products and resembles human trafficking. Minnesota’s proposed commercial surrogacy statute, however, moves in the opposite direction and treats children as a product exchanged between contracting parties, and treats women as human incubators. The bill is designed to foremost protect the “investments” of the “intended parents.”

Perpetuating inequality

The proposed law is built on an inherently unequal relationship between the buyers (“intended parents”) and the woman who rents out her body, and favors the needs and desires of the buyers — those who have the economic advantage to afford the hefty combined price tag of the brokers, clinics, fertility treatments and the surrogate woman herself.

Women who are hired as surrogate mothers tend to be, naturally, more economically disadvantaged, and enter into surrogacy arrangements for the promised monetary payments. Even women who claim altruistic reasons for serving as surrogates admit that the promise of compensation is part of the equation.

Although the bill ensures that the surrogate mother receives the compensation for which she has agreed to carry a child, the emotional and health risks of the surrogate mothers are not properly protected.

And, these unequal transactions, amid the highly unregulated U.S. fertility industry, result in inadequate “informed” consent, low payments, coercion, poor health care, and severe risks to a woman’s health — risks that include ovarian problems, infection, future infertility, and cancer from the multiple injections of synthetic hormones and other drugs such as Lupron, which is not FDA approved for fertility use.

‘Best interest of the child’

Another major problem of the bill is that the standard principle in family law with regard to fragmented families and children — “the best interests of the child” — will not be given any consideration in the surrogacy contracts.

Unlike in the adoption process, there is no requirement that the “intended parents” who receive the child are “fit” parents. In fact, this bill circumvents and undermines the adoption process, and the safeguards present within it, for protecting children.

Further, surrogacy is often connected to eugenics, where people seek to create “designer babies.” Advertisements for eggs often indicate that they come from “smart, healthy, and beautiful donors.”

But what happens to those children who have birth defects or other challenges that render them unwanted by the “intended parents”? In many cases, they will be aborted. But one major unanswered question is how courts will treat these contracts, and whether the intended parents can coerce the birth mother to abort a child they no longer want.

As Catholics, we are called to protect the most poor and vulnerable in society. This means that we have a duty to protect those, such as women who are contracting in surrogacy arrangements, from situations in which someone could take advantage of them. Most important, we have a duty to protect children who are unable to speak for themselves.

Where we go from here

To date, legislative leaders have refused to give full health policy hearings to the Commercial Surrogacy bill. But legislation laden with such important moral and social questions, and which could significantly impact the women and children who are a part of these arrangements, must be given further legislative scrutiny and public debate.

Before rushing into the surrogacy business, Minnesota should follow the lead of states such as New York and New Jersey, which established commissions to consider the human consequences of surrogacy and the impact of a surrogacy business in their state. Refusing to consider the consequences — on this or any issue — is a disregard of the legislative duty to which Minnesotans should hold their elected officials.

Kathryn Mollen is policy and outreach coordinator for the Minnesota Catholic Conference.

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