Surrogacy and the Commodification of Human Life

Eric Metaxas
February 11, 2014
Reproduced with Permission

Some of the most moving biblical narratives involve childless women. The stories of Sarah, Hannah the mother of Samuel, and Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist, serve as reminders of God's faithfulness and power.

When Hannah, after learning that she'll have a son, exults and declares, "The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn," her joy is born out of the anguish of childlessness.

Three thousand years later, infertility is still an issue. Some women who want children but can't have any are today embracing new medical technologies to fill the void in their lives. But increasingly, as an important new film tells us, many couples are going too far.

The film is entitled "Breeders," and it was produced by the Center for Bioethics and Culture. In it, Jennifer Lahl, who wrote and directed the film, gives viewers an unsentimental, behind-the-scenes view of surrogate pregnancy.

In a surrogate pregnancy, a couple that cannot have children on their own pays a woman to carry their child to term.

Promoters of surrogacy tout the practice as a "win-win": infertile couples get the child they've always wanted and the surrogate gets money she needs.

But as Lahl's film shows us, surrogacy has it losers as well.

In interview after interview with former surrogates, Lahl demonstrates that the relationship between the prospective parents and the surrogate is often exploitative. It could hardly be otherwise - we are talking about women who, for the most part, are economically desperate enough to rent out their bodies for nine-to-ten months.

That being the case, it shouldn't surprise you to learn that, increasingly, Western couples turn to third-world women to serve as surrogates. There's even a euphemism for the practice: "reproductive outsourcing."

Thus, the title "breeders" is apt. These women aren't seen so much as people but as machines whose function is unrelated to their well-being or dignity, apart from pre-natal care.

But if the women are machines, then the children are products and treated accordingly. Whereas mother-child bonding is regarded as a vital and necessary ingredient in a child's development, surrogacy, for obvious reasons, discourages such bonding - this despite growing evidence that what happens in the womb has an impact on the unborn child.

As this film makes clear, surrogacy is about the "needs" and desires of the couple with the money, not the child's, and certainly not the surrogate's.

These "needs" and "desires" aren't limited to the desire for a child. They are also related to issues of lifestyle. As the owner of a website that brings together prospective parents and surrogates says in the film, "women and men" put off starting a family in order to work on "career," "self-development," "travel," and "other life experiences."

The rise of surrogacy means that those with the means don't have to trade all this self-actualization for having children. In this and many other senses, surrogacy represents the coming together of many of our culture's worst ideas, including the commodification of human life. It's an exploitation uniquely crafted for our times - and it is on the rise.