Catholic concerns over surrogacy bill

A nurse and newborns are seen in the Hotel Venice, which is owned by BioTexCom. a surrogacy agency in Kyiv, Ukraine, May 14, 2020. Dozens of babies born to surrogate mothers are stranded in Ukraine as the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown prevents their foreign parents from collecting them. The country's Catholic bishops have called for a halt to commercial surrogacy. (CNS photo/Gleb Garanich, Reuters) See UKRAINE-SURROGATES-BABIES May 15, 2020.


A Catholic bioethicist has concerns over the extent to which surrogate mothers would be paid under proposed legislation.

Reacting to an announcement that the Government is taking over a private member’s bill on surrogacy arrangements, Nathaniel Centre for Bioethics director Dr John Kleinsman told One News that it was OK to meet basic pregnancy-related costs, but that going further raised “murky” questions.

“I think we get into very murky ground when we start thinking about loss of earnings, or paying a surrogate mother for the time that she is carrying that child,” he said.

Justice Minister Kiri Allan told One News that the Government was intent on avoiding the notion of “rent-a-womb” happening in New Zealand.

In further comments to NZ Catholic, Dr Kleinsman reiterated the Catholic position, spelled out in the 1987 Instruction on Respect for Human Life in its Origin (Donum Vitae), that every human being is always to be accepted as a gift.

“Among other things, this means that we must protect human procreation from all forms of commodification and commercialisation, and that includes payment for gametes, embryos, or for gestation,” Dr Kleinsman said.

This is not just a Catholic idea. In Aotearoa, we have long resisted paying for blood, tissue and organs, unlike other parts of the world. on the basis that our bodies are gifts. As a 1994 New Zealand Ministerial Committee Report on Assisted Human Reproduction noted: ‘Any right to found a family must not be seen in proprietary terms. It is not a right to have or own a child, whom many see as a gift.’”

According to The Catechism of the Catholic Church, “techniques that entail the dissociation of husband and wife, by the intrusion of a person other than the couple (donation of sperm or ovum, surrogate uterus), are gravely immoral.” (CCC 2376)

“Put simply, the Catholic position is premised on holding together the biological, gestational and social aspects that make up parenthood,” Dr Kleinsman added.

“While heterologous IVF separates the biological from the other aspects of parenthood, surrogacy separates the gestational from the social, and may also involve separation of the biological from the social and gestational. The Catholic position that babies have a fundamental right to grow up within the family networks that are generated by their genetic and gestational ties, shows a positive commitment for the well-being of children because of the potentially negative impact on their sense of identity in later life.”

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s instruction Donum Vitae stated that surrogate motherhood is not morally licit because “. . . it is contrary to the unity of marriage and to the dignity of the procreation of the human person. Surrogate motherhood represents an objective failure to meet the obligations of maternal love, of conjugal fidelity and of responsible motherhood; it offends the dignity and the right of the child to be conceived, carried in the womb, brought into the world and brought up by his own parents; it sets up, to the detriment of families, a division between the physical, psychological and moral elements which constitute those families”.

Radio New Zealand reported that, following the Government taking over the private member’s bill from Labour MP Tamati Coffey, a select committee will consider recommendations made by the Law Commission in a review last year. Parliament unanimously voted for the Improving Arrangements for Surrogacy Bill at its first reading last year.

In its submission on the private member’s bill last year, Family First noted that the bill was drafted before the Law Commission review was delivered.

Family First stated that “both the Law Commission review and the bill uphold the prohibition on the commercialisation of surrogacy, while carving out an exemption to allow the intended parents to compensate the surrogate for the reasonable expenses incurred prior to and during the pregnancy”. (Non-commercial surrogacy is not illegal in New Zealand.)

But the Family First submission stated that the bill did not address recommendations by the Law Commission about what reasonable costs can be compensated under surrogacy arrangements.

Family First noted that the Law Commission recommended that any compensation for loss of income be capped at three months wages/income less any paid parental leave payments received in the same period. Any period where the surrogate was advised not to work on medical grounds because of the surrogacy would also be grounds for compensation.

Other area for possible compensation listed by the Law Commission include medical, accommodation, care of dependents, health products, and insurance premium costs associated with the surrogacy.

But the Family First submission noted that the key difference between the bill and the Law Commission review is that the bill does not specifically prescribe limits on the categories of permissible compensation.

“The bill then goes further than the Law Commission review by making intended parents liable for child support payments, where the intended parents refuse to take custody of the child despite a surrogacy arrangement.

“The sum of these differences means that a surrogacy arrangement under the bill is potentially more commercially beneficial for a surrogate than the recommendations in the Law Commission review.”

Family First added that, “because the bill is less prescriptive than the Law Commission about what constitutes reasonable expenses, there is arguably greater scope for the unintended commercialisation of surrogacy arrangements”.

Family First also noted that the Law Commission recommended that the arrangements with respect to the payment of reasonable costs become legally enforceable. But “there is no provision in the bill for how the financial support agreed to between parties may be enforced”.

The submission by Family First recommended “the Government . . . produce a bill that represents and deals with the issues raised by the Law Commission, and then . . . resubmit it and allow public submissions to a select committee”.

A submission on the Tamati Coffey bill by the New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services, which includes Catholic Social Services, also stated that provision in the bill for reimbursement to surrogates of lost income or wages “be further extended to include other reasonable costs such as for the care of a surrogate’s dependents in line with the Law Commission recommendations, and in situations where there are health complications, any lost wages that may be incurred by the surrogate’s partner during their pregnancy and postpartum recovery”.

The NZCCSS submission added that “there is potential for surrogate mothers to experience discrimination in accessing postpartum services when they no longer have custody of the pēpi (baby). We urge Government to consider how the rights of surrogate mothers to” care and assistance “will be upheld through these legislative changes”.

NZCCSS also supported the Law Commission’s recommendation that the reimbursement of expenses be agreed upfront as part of a Surrogacy Order to minimise the risk of coercion from either party throughout the pregnancy.

The Law Commission estimates that about 50 children are born each year in New Zealand as a result of surrogacy arrangements.

The private member’s bill explanatory note stated that the bill aims to ensure that “the intending parents are automatically made the legal guardians of the child when they take custody, instead of having to go through the formal adoption process”.

According to Parliament’s website, “the bill also recognises the rights of children to know their genetic origins by requiring the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages to register information about the identity of the surrogate and any person who contributed genetic material to the pregnancy. It will also create a register of people willing to become surrogates, to make it easier to match them to intending parents”.

Photo: A nurse and newborns are seen in the Hotel Venice, which is owned by BioTexCom. a surrogacy agency in Kyiv, Ukraine, in 2020 (CNS photo/Gleb Garanich, Reuters)


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