Surrogacy fragments the family

The Irish Times carried an extraordinary story recently of a woman who got pregnant on her lunchtime break, using anonymously donated sperm from the Danish firm, Cryos.  What gave the story an added twist is that the woman is adopted, and had spent her whole life wondering “what it was like to look like somebody”.

She did not want to adopt, because she wanted her own ‘flesh and blood’. Yet she has deliberately decided to remove the possibility of her son ever knowing the other somebody he will more than likely look like – his biological father. 

Sperm donation

Sperm donation is unregulated in Ireland, but anonymous sperm donation is illegal in Britain, not least to the sterling efforts of Joanna Rose, a woman herself conceived that way.

She took a case to the British courts to establish her right to know the identity of the man who sold his sperm so that she could be conceived, and thereby secured a change in British law for all. 

In the thesis which she submitted for a Doctorate in Philosophy, she writes about how adults are facilitated in their quest for genetic continuity by assisted human reproduction techniques, while ignoring the child’s legitimate right to be known and cared for by her or his genetic parents.

She is in favour of banning sperm and egg donation completely. Frequently, people ask her if this demonstrates a form of self-hatred, as without sperm donation she would not exist.

In her typical, ‘take no prisoners’ way, she replies: “If I were the product of rape, I would still be glad to be alive, but that doesn’t mean I or anyone else should approve of rape or think that it’s ethical.”

The Minister for Justice recently issued a briefing document on the upcoming Children and Family Bill 2013 in relation to parentage in assisted human reproduction.


These are some of the proposals: “The proposed rules for assigning parentage in cases of assisted human reproduction (other than surrogacy cases) are as follows:

(i) Where the genetic link is to the intending father, the parents are the birth mother and the genetic father,

(ii) Where the genetic link is to the intending mother, the parents are the birth mother and her consenting spouse, civil partner or cohabiting partner,

(iii) Where the genetic link is to the intending father and the intending mother, they are both the parents,

(iv) Where there is no genetic link to either intending parent, the parents are the birth mother and her consenting spouse, civil partner or cohabiting partner.”

Blood link

Got all that? No? You are not alone. In the first and second instances, the supplier of either the egg or the sperm is completely ignored. For example, if the ovum is supplied by the mother, and there is no genetic link to the ‘consenting spouse, civil partner or consenting partner’, the partner or spouse will still be declared to be the parent.  This completely denies the value of any blood link.

In relation to surrogacy, the proposal is that a surrogacy agreement cannot be enforced – in other words, the mother who carries the baby will be permitted to raise the child if she choses, which is a positive move. It also appears to ban commercial surrogacy, but sadly, the devil is in the detail.

The briefing note says: “Money paid to a surrogate mother, must be limited to reasonable costs associated with a pregnancy, including medical and (sic) costs, travel and accommodation, [and] loss of earnings.”

British surrogates, according to the Surrogacy UK website, receive ‘reasonable expenses’ of between £7,000 to £15,000.

Given the reasonable expenses clause, the use of  Indian women as surrogates will still be  perfectly permissible under the proposed Bill. At the moment, some Indian clinics keep women in a dormitory for the duration of their pregnancies.

It is akin to baby farming. This was made amply clear in BBC Four’s recent programme, House of Surrogates. As a Daily Telegraph review pointed out, the surrogates receive $8,000 while the clinics charge the couples or single people $28,000. 

The Telegraph reviewer, Jake Wallis Simons concludes: “It became abundantly clear that while medical science is fulfilling the dreams of desperate couples in the rich world, the process takes an appalling physical and emotional toll on India’s most vulnerable women.”

While sympathy for infertile couples is not only understandable, but praiseworthy, it does not mean that every intervention that circumvents infertility is ethical. Adoption takes a child who already exists, and finds a family for him or her.

However, sperm or egg donation, or surrogacy, splits parenthood into fragments, and while individual children may be resilient enough to be perfectly fine, it raises deeply troubling issues for us as a society.  As usual, the voice of caution seems set to be ignored, but who will bear the cost?