Legislature could vote on surrogacy bill later this month

| Bridget Ryder for The Catholic Spirit | April 10, 2014 | 0 Comments
Nikolas Nikas

Nikolas Nikas

The Minnesota Legislature is in the process of legalizing a commercial gestational surrogacy business in the state, but the Minnesota Catholic Conference hopes to stop the legislation by drawing attention to the issue.

“Each piece has quietly moved through the committee process,” said Jason Adkins, executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, the public policy voice of the state’s Catholic bishops. “The driving force is to clarify in family law that surrogacy agreements will be honored in our courts, and intended parents will be able to receive the child.”

Neither the Legislature nor the state’s appellate courts have authoritatively stated that surrogacy agreements are valid contracts.

According to Adkins, a gestational surrogacy lawyer drafted the bill. Adkins estimates that it will go to a vote later in April.

Gestational surrogacy is when a woman, through in vitro fertilization and embryo transfer, carries to term a child who is not hers biologically for the intended parents.

In the U.S., the gestational surrogacy industry is largely unregulated. Only some states have laws, and among those that do, the regulations vary. Some states and the District of Columbia prohibits gestational surrogacy contracts.

While the Minnesota Catholic Conference understands the pain of infertility and the desire many have to raise a child, it opposes any form of legalized surrogacy because it turns people into commodities.

“It’s a form of human trafficking,” Adkins said. “Women should not be for rent, and children should not be for sale. It treats children as products to be bought and sold. Generally, people are uninformed and have a sort of a People magazine-take on it. They don’t understand the dark underbelly of the surrogacy industry and how it plays itself out in the world.”

Highlighting concerns

Nikolas Nikas, president and general counsel for the Bioethics Defense Fund in Arizona, points to the terminology for the surrogate mother used on websites of surrogacy brokers. The terms have slid from “gestational surrogate” to “gestational carrier” to “host womb.”

“There’s not even a woman anymore,” Nikas said. “You focus on their uterus as a device. When money starts changing hands, even for good purposes, there’s a commodification. We do not allow the buying and selling of organs; they know there is an inherent corrosive effect.”

Nikas spoke at an event hosted by the MCC April 8 at Our Lady of Lourdes in Minneapolis.

Adkins said that despite the health risks to the surrogate mother associated with in vitro fertilization and embryo transplant, as well as research showing that children of surrogacy often have health and developmental difficulties, the bill was not vetted by the health and human services committees in either house of the Legislature.

Also, unlike adoption, gestational surrogacy contracts don’t involve a screening process to ensure intended parents are the best fit for the child.

“There are a lot of policy implications that have not been considered. Lawyers are painting it as a property rights issue,” Adkins said. “Legislators need to hear from their constituents that they oppose legalizing the surrogacy business.”

The April 8 event also included a screening of the documentary “Breeders,” produced by Jennifer Lahl, president of the Center for Bioethics and Culture in California.

The film is the third documentary of a series that shows the human cost of assisted reproductive technology. “Anonymous Father’s Day” and “Eggsploitation” explore the lives of young adults conceived through assisted reproductive technology and the stories of anonymous gamete donors.

“We make our films to raise these profound ethical questions: Should we be making people this way?” Lahl said.

Nikas said the issue is characterized by a technological imperative — the mentality that if something can be done technologically, it should be done.

“But I tell students, just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should,” he said. “We certainly understand the profound pain of infertility, but it’s not about the needs of the adult. It’s about the needs of the child and good of society.”

Lahl’s film was released in January and has already been shown at the parliament of the European Union in Brussels, Belgium.

According to Adkins, the EU issued a resolution against gestational surrogacy as a violation of the right of the child to be connected to its biological parents and a means of perpetrating violence against women. Canada banned commercial surrogacy in 2007.

“You’re intentionally creating a child for other parents,” said Lahl, a pediatric nurse. “There is one thing a baby knows at birth and that’s who is their mother. The baby doesn’t know it was just a gestational mother. To ignore that would be a trauma to the child to be removed from that mother.”

According to Adkins, anti-poverty and women’s rights groups, including many leaders in the National Organization for Women, also oppose contracted gestational surrogacy. Surrogate mothers are usually economically disadvantaged women while the intended parents, because of the expense involved in the process, are usually wealthy.

Nikas said the negative moral implications of surrogacy are not always obvious. Some might think surrogacy is pro-life in nature because a couple gets a baby.

“Yes, you get a baby, but with many consequences to the child and to society,” he said.

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