By now, most of you have heard about the third party reproduction scandal that has engulfed the surrogacy community. I posted this information the morning the news broke, but have kept quiet simply because there didn’t seem to be much I could say that would add any value other than echoing the awfulness and sadness of the whole situation. Then I had a conversation that reflects the huge gap between the general public and the infertility community over the legal, moral, and ethical issues inherent with third party reproduction.
The person I was talking to expressed dismay that someone could buy eggs and sperm, and then pay a surrogate to carry the child. “They are buying a child, which is clearly illegal.” I explained that paying for egg, sperm and surrogate is legal in many states in the US and some other countries as well. What was illegal in the recent surrogacy fraud case was that there was not an intended parent that had signed a surrogacy arrangement before the embryos created by donor egg and sperm were transferred into the surrogate and then misrepresenting this information to a US court. My conversation-mate was horrified. She saw no difference between this practice and what was actually illegal. “This is worse than baby selling since you are creating a child for the purpose of selling it.”
I relayed this conversation to a third party reproduction professional (egg donation and surrogacy) and she was equally horrified that anyone would have a problem with the practice of egg and sperm donation combined with surrogacy. These conversations brought home to me the gap between those inside and outside the infertility world.
I see the distinction. Regardless what you think about buying eggs and sperm and paying surrogates, it is clear from an ethical standpoint that prior to conception someone needs to be committed to parenting this child. It cheapens the value of human life to create a child and then shop the surrogate around looking for someone willing and able to pay the cost. What would happen if the child was born premature with significant medical concerns before a parent was found? Also, someone needs to be legally and morally “on the hook” for paying the surrogate’s and child’s medical costs and the surrogate’s fee.
Clearly this is an extreme case and the guilty parties will be punished. But the truth is that much of the advanced forms of infertility treatment and third party reproduction exist on the edge of legality and ethics. How many embryos should be created, how many should be transferred, what to do with unused embryos, selective reduction of triplets and twins, payment for third parties, and on and on. I think that it is easy for those who work in this area to lose the ability to see the different shades of gray.
It is often not clear what is “right”, which means it is incumbent on the medical and legal professionals to give respectful and thoughtful consideration to these issues and be willing to voluntarily curtail practices that begin to edge over the ethical line. Infertility patients are often not in the position to accurately weigh the morality of these issues. They are not trained, and quite frankly, many are so desperate that they aren’t able to step back and view the situation with an ethical eye. They must rely on the infertility medical and legal professionals for guidance. These professionals need to carefully and rigorously regulate themselves to protect their patients, to keep treatment options open, and ultimately to protect the children that will be born.
For more information on this recent surrogacy scandal and what others are saying, check out these resources. My thanks to Evelina Sterling for helping to compile this list.
- FBI press release
- Article calling for greater regulation of third party reproduction
- Patient community blogs: Third Party Professional Community’s response
- Betraying the Community: My Response to the Theresa Erickson Scandal
- My Thoughts on the Theresa Erickson Baby Selling Scandal
- Made To Order Babies: When Reproductive Medicine Breaks the Law
- The Theresa Erickson Baby Selling Ring: The After-Shocks Are Just Beginning..
- The Voice of The Surrogates in The Theresa Erickson Baby Selling Scandal
- More Troubling Allegations Leveled Against Surrogate Parenting Center of Texas And Merritt Patterson
Image credit: Truthout.org