Russell and Duenes

Fracturing the Genetic, Gestational and Social Components of Parenthood

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joyce_kennardFormer California Supreme Court Associate Justice, Joyce Kennard, in her dissenting opinion in Johnson v. Calvert (1993), brings home a number of concerns about commercial surrogacy. Quoting from the New York State Task Force on Life and the Law, she reminds us that “the gestation of children as a service for others in exchange for a fee is a radical departure from the way in which society understands and values pregnancy.” It certainly requires that we accept a much more utilitarian understanding of pregnancy. It makes pregnancy a kind of business proposition, even though there may be, and often is, love involved in surrogacy contexts.

Additionally, “surrogate parenting allows the genetic, gestational and social components of parenthood to be fragmented, creating unprecedented relationships among people bound together by contractual obligation rather than by the bonds of kinship and caring.” I wonder if we understand yet the full consequences of pulling apart the “genetic, gestational and social components of parenthood.” I honestly don’t know. In some ways, it seems benign, no different than adoption, or perhaps better than adoption, since the genetic parents will be raising the child. Yet the generative act never happens for the genetic parents. Any child of theirs is not the product of the physical and spiritual union God designed to bring about children. This is particularly apparent when it comes to gay couples or single men and women who want to use a surrogate. In such a case we may have a gay man’s sperm, an anonymous woman’s egg, brought together in a laboratory, with another separate woman carrying the child through pregnancy, and both of these women then entirely absent from the child’s subsequent life. This is indeed a radical departure from the social nexus in which the vast majority of human beings have been conceived and raised.

Further, in surrogacy, we ask a young woman to carry the child, to nurture the child as she does so, but to remain disinterested enough in the child she is carrying so that she can happily give the child away when the pregnancy is over. And we don’t ask her to give the child away through an accident of circumstances. Rather, we ask her to enter into the pregnancy for the specific, sole and intentional purpose of relinquishing the child in the end. What effect does this have, if any? Does the fact that all of this is done contractually, with people being sued, change us as people? Does it change the way we view having children, in the sense that we feel entitled to them?

Finally, “surrogate parenting alters deep-rooted social and moral assumptions about the relationship between parents and children . . . [It] is premised on the ability and willingness of women to abdicate [their parental] responsibility without moral compunction or regret [and] makes the obligations that accompany parenthood alienable and negotiable.” Does the commercial aspect change the nature of how we see children and their place in our lives?

I think all of this is worth pondering. We so easily compartmentalize things, and think that action A over here has little or no effect on action/person B over there. And then we rush into things. We seem to have done so here.



Written by Michael Duenes

February 25, 2015 at 6:56 pm

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