The Bible’s Viewpoint
Surrogate Motherhood—Is It for Christians?
THE ancient Roman poet Horace knew nothing of surrogate motherhood when he wrote: “It is of no consequence of what parents a man is born, so he be a man of merit.” The 17th-century French writer’s maxim, “Birth is nothing where virtue is not,” was also penned long before the concept of surrogate birth became a legal quagmire. But, as Mary Thom reported in Ms. magazine, with new reproductive technology, “the functions of producer of the egg, incubator of the fetus-becoming-baby, and caretaker of the baby once born” may be divided among two or three “mothers.” The question of “virtue” and “consequence” has become both ambiguous and complex.
The practice of using surrogate mothers burst onto the world scene during the mid-1970’s, raising social, moral, and legal problems not faced before. Some infertile couples were eager to take advantage of this nontraditional mode of reproduction. On the other hand, doctors, lawyers, and legislators have struggled to keep up with the expanding fertility technology in an effort to set guidelines that address the ethical and moral questions raised.
What Is Surrogate Motherhood?
Surrogate, or contract, motherhood is having an artificially inseminated woman bear a child for another woman. So-called traditional surrogacy occurs when the surrogate mother is impregnated through artificial insemination with the sperm of the husband from the couple who have contracted with her. The surrogate is thus the genetic mother of the baby. Gestational surrogacy means that the wife’s egg and the husband’s sperm are united outside the womb in a process known as in-vitro (test-tube) fertilization, and the resulting embryo is placed in the surrogate’s uterus for gestation.
Why the rise in surrogate motherhood? For one thing, high-tech science has discovered several ways to help women have babies. Couples may desperately want a child, yet because of infertility, inconvenience, or too few healthy babies for adoption, they cannot have one. So they rent another person’s body to have a baby. Since large sums of money are involved, surrogacy has been described in unflattering terms, such as “involuntary servitude and slavery” and “strip-mining the fertility of the poor.”
In the United States, the New Jersey Supreme Court recognized the potential for the rich to exploit the poor and in a surrogacy case stated: “There are, in short, values that society deems more important than granting to wealth whatever it can buy, be it labor, love, or life.” The Supreme Court of France stated that surrogate motherhood violates a woman’s body and that “the human body is not lent out, is not rented out, is not sold.”
Problems With Surrogacy
Surrogacy brings a number of problems. One is the potential for ugly legal battles if the woman who gives birth wants to keep the baby. Whose baby is it, the woman who gives birth or the woman who provides the egg? So the birth of a child, usually a time of joy, sometimes leads to a courtroom battle. Another problem: Some women who agree to become surrogate mothers find their feelings changing with the development and birth of the contracted child. The contract laid out some months earlier becomes harder and harder to accept. A powerful bonding relationship is being formed between the mother and the baby inside her. One surrogate mother, not anticipating this bonding, explains her feelings about giving up the baby: “It was as if somebody had died. My body was crying out for my daughter.”
Also, what long-term effects might such a birth have on the surrogate’s other children, the family that accepts the baby, and the child itself? Or what will happen if a child born by a surrogate mother has a birth defect? Is the father obliged to take the baby? If not, who pays for the child’s support? And an even more important question, What is God’s view of surrogate motherhood?
Does Surrogate Motherhood Honor Marriage?
God’s Word tells us that he looks upon marriage as something sacred. For example, Hebrews 13:4 states: “Let marriage be honorable among all, and the marriage bed be without defilement, for God will judge fornicators and adulterers.”* God expects all Christians to consider marriage honorable and to keep it that way. What defiles marriage? Fornication, which can dishonor marriage in advance, and adultery, which dishonors marriage after it has been entered into.
Does surrogate motherhood honor marriage and keep the marriage bed undefiled? Simply put, no. Traditional surrogacy requires the insemination of the woman by donor sperm. The Bible’s view may be found at Leviticus 18:20, which says: “You must not give your emission as semen to the wife of your associate to become unclean by it.” There is no Biblical basis for making a distinction between insemination by intercourse and insemination artificially by donor implantation. Therefore, in either case, fornication or adultery is committed when insemination is accomplished by a male other than the woman’s legal husband.
What about gestational surrogacy? This too defiles the marriage bed. True, the fertilized egg would be a union of the husband and his wife, but it is thereafter placed in the womb of another woman and, in fact, makes her pregnant. This pregnancy is not the result of sexual relations between the surrogate woman and her own husband. Thus, her reproductive organs are now being used by someone other than her own mate. This is inconsistent with the Bible’s moral principles that a woman bear a child for her own husband. (Compare Deuteronomy 23:2.) It would not be proper for a man other than the surrogate’s own husband to make use of her reproductive organs. It is an improper use of the marriage bed. Thus, surrogate motherhood is not for Christians.
The reference work New Testament Word Studies shows that “the marriage bed” of Hebrews 13:4 means that not only the state but also the use of marriage should not be defiled.
[Picture Credit Line on page 26]
Pastel by Mary Cassatt, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. Ralph J. Hines, 1960. (60.181)