Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Good Intentions – Paving the Road to …

Solving the problems with surrogate parenthood
A couple grieves over their inability to biologically produce their own offspring. After years of desperately exploring every medical possibility, and perhaps even adoption, they decide to hire a surrogate mother to carry reproductive cells from the couple to generate a child of their own flesh.

Then the legal nightmare begins. Since surrogate childbearing is not legally recognized in Utah, no contract between the parents and the surrogate mother is valid and the birth certificate carries the name of the childbearing mother, not the cell donor mother. The parents that initiated the whole arrangement end up essentially with no legal right to their child. The surrogate mother might decide to keep the child. This is no hypothetical possibility; it has actually happened.

Enter the hero, Senator Lyle Hillyard (R-Logan) with SB14 to save the day. On January 26, 2005 the Senate passed the bill 25-0 (4 absent). The bill would allow binding surrogacy contracts and would allow the donor parents to be listed on the birth certificate.

This is all very good, right? Well, maybe. Every bill that is signed into law has unintended side effects. Sometimes they are easy to predict, while other times they seem to blindside us. But it seems that we tend to be blinded more easily when a new law involves a heartrending emotional issue.

Six states have laws expressly permitting surrogate childbearing. Most of these are liberal states that implemented these laws under the gay rights banner. 11 states have laws specifically prohibiting surrogate childbearing. In Michigan it is a criminal offense that can result in jail time.

Perhaps it would be a good idea to ask why conservative Utah (which had one of the highest percentages of Bush voters) is eager to climb into bed with the likes of Washington, D.C. (which had the highest percentage of Kerry voters). What is it that Michigan lawmakers see that ours do not?

Almost everyone focuses entirely on the circumstances of the adults involved. Almost no one pays attention to the children. They are treated like a manufacturing product created to satisfy the whims of people rich enough to buy them.

Surrogacy raises a number of serious ethical and legal concerns as noted in the SL Trib by Brooke Adams and Elizabeth Neff.

Adams notes that there can be long-term emotional side effects for everyone involved. Neff points out that people willing to pursue surrogacy are willing to skirt the law. This has already been going on in Utah for some time, with surrogate mothers going out of state to give birth so that the birth certificate can reflect the contracting parents’ names. Neff develops the idea that it is better for the children if the state will codify surrogate arrangements so that the children are not left in legal limbo.

To be honest, it always grates on me when I hear the argument that we need to legalize or allow something because it is happening in the real world anyway. This same kind of reasoning gave us legalized abortion, government sponsored needle distribution to addicts, and condom distribution at schools. While illegalizing a behavior may not stop it, legalizing it amounts to governmental approval, which results in more of it than if it remained illegal. For example, despite all of the nifty arguments in favor of legalization of narcotics, nobody really believes that it will result in a reduction of drug abuse. On the contrary, it’s obvious that abuse would skyrocket. All of this smacks of solutions C.S. Lewis said were like using fire extinguishers in times of flood. Besides, we don’t always approve of this type of logic; otherwise we would never have passed Amendment 3 protecting traditional marriage.

My guess is that most people do not see surrogacy as a threat to their way of life. They might not participate in it themselves, but it doesn’t seem entirely bizarre, and it certainly allows barren couples to achieve something other couples can do without any special help or government involvement. To most people it would probably seem callous to vote the bill down at this point.

What about the liberal agenda and other problems with surrogacy? SB14 avoids the gay agenda, which is definitely unpopular in Utah, by making it available only for legally married Utah parents (as defined by Amendment 3). SB14 only applies to test tube babies, not to children conceived via sexual intercourse, so it does not legalize a form of prostitution. Moreover, the surrogate mother must be a Utah resident that has had at least one prior successful pregnancy. Also, the her right to make certain choices are protected. The contracting parents cannot, for example, require the surrogate to abort the baby if an ultrasound reveals birth defects.

I have great sympathy for childless couples that wish for a child of their own. My wife and I went through more than four years of a variety of fertility tests and treatments before we were able to achieve pregnancy. Due to my health issues we were not candidates for standard adoption. Private adoption is usually expensive and was far beyond our means. We explored every possibility because we instinctively knew that parenthood would help us develop in ways that no other experience could. We felt incomplete.

While I know what childless couples go through, I’m not sure that surrogacy is an acceptable answer. I can’t fully explain why, but something inside makes me feel that it is inherently wrong. Although no sex act is involved, a woman renting out her body is only a slight step removed from prostitution. I’m also certain that there are many that would disagree with me. I’m not sure that society should be endorsing this behavior or making it easier. I just wish that there had been more debate on the matter.

Usually when a bill passes with no dissenting votes there has been very little debate. The House has yet to consider its version of the bill, but I doubt you will see much debate there either. Bills altering basic public moral values should be vigorously vetted and debated before they are brought to a vote. There will be little chance of going back and fixing this matter once it becomes law.

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