The multifaceted problems of surrogacy and donor conception

The last two days at Catholic World Report we’ve run articles on different aspects of surrogate pregnancies and donor conception (pregnancies created using either donated sperm or eggs). The moral, spiritual, physical, and legal problems surrounding these increasingly complicated social realities seemed to merit two distinct approaches, which we think are presented well in these two pieces. We hope you’ll take a look at both articles and read them as companion pieces.

Yesterday, Leslie Fain’s article “Pain, Profit, and Third-Party Conception” focused on the growing number of donor-conceived people who are speaking out against these practices. Take, for example, the experiences of Damian Adams, an Australian scientist researching the long-term effects of donor conception who was himself conceived through sperm donation:

“I love my parents, and I find it sad that some people choose to view those donor-conceived people who are unhappy with their origins as coming from broken or unhappy homes,” he said.  “That is simply not the case in all instances. While some argue that love is all that matters, we can see from my case that love does not conquer all.”

Once in favor of anonymous donor conception, his views changed after the birth of his daughter. “It was a moment not too dissimilar from the moments that parents often report experiencing when they hold their child for the first time and stare into their baby’s eyes,” he said.  

“It was an acceptance and knowledge of a biological connection. That no matter what might happen in the world, we would always be father and daughter,” he said. “This biological connection made me think about how I would feel if my daughter grew up not knowing who I was.”

“This was a concept I could not bear to think about, but instead I applied it to how this notion did in fact mirror my own life. While events transpired that I do not know who my donor is, and I may never know, there will always be a biological connection that can never be broken. So instead of being an extremely joyous time, there was part of it that was incredibly dark as I reflected on what [I’d been] deprived of,” Adams said.

“I do experiments every day in a lab, and what I have seen and researched in the donor-conception field mirrors what I do in the lab. Donor-conceived people are the guinea pigs,” said Adams.

And today we have an article by Sister Renée Mirkes, director of the Center for NaProEthics at the Pope Paul VI Institute, “The Injustices of the Surrogacy Industry.” Mirkes’ piece presents Catholic teaching on third-party conception—surrogate pregnancy in particular—as articulated in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s 1987 document Donum Vitae, and demonstrates how strains of current research on these subjects are confirming that teaching:

Mothers have long believed, cultures have long taught, and research has repeatedly confirmed that an emotional network links pregnant moms to their babies. If mom is happy, the preborn baby is content. When mom is anxious, the prenate shows signs of stress. What’s more, post-birth, this bio-emotional nexus—the gestational link—continues to yoke mothers to their offspring throughout childhood, adolescence, and adulthood.

It’s important, then, to investigate what happens when an enterprise like surrogacy sunders the gestational link. For the first time, a 2013 study suggests surrogate children experience greater adjustment difficulties and levels of stress than same-aged children born by gamete donation. [1] In other words, severing the gestational link can be even more devastating for surrogate children than splitting the genetic link can be for children produced by donor egg and/or sperm.

This report turns to Christian anthropology and prenatal research to connect the dots of the maladaptation of the surrogate child to the troubling exploitation that impacts all surrogacy stakeholders. Predictably, the injustices—the flotsam and jetsam of the surrogacy industry—don’t just harm the child,[2] they ripple out over the surrogate mother, the commissioning parents, and all of society.


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About Catherine Harmon 578 Articles
Catherine Harmon works in the marketing department for Ignatius Press.