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Rent-a-womb, buy a person: See the moral problem, yet?

A young woman in Buenos Aires caresses her pregnancy in this file photo from Nov. 7, 2023. (OSV News photo/Enrique Cangas, CNS)

By Our Sunday Visitor Editorial Board

In a heart-wrenching story out of California, a mother has gone public with her tragic experience as a surrogate, claiming that she was urged to terminate her pregnancy at 24 weeks after being diagnosed with breast cancer.

At 22 weeks into a surrogate pregnancy, Brittney Pearson, 37, of Sacramento, received the devastating news of her breast cancer diagnosis in May. Brittney described her reaction to the news saying, “My main focus was that I could continue the pregnancy and that the baby would be OK.”

According to Pearson’s account, medical professionals at Sutter Health Medical Center in Sacramento initially told her that she could undergo a pregnancy-compatible form of chemotherapy treatment. They planned to induce her at 34 weeks gestation — a plan that, initially, was acceptable to the two men who had hired Brittney.

A comprehensive, full-body MRI scan revealed the full extent of the disease.

At 24 weeks, Brittney learned her cancer had metastasized. She would need a faster-growing, more aggressive chemo. Since Brittney would now require a different chemotherapy, doing so would put the baby she was carrying at risk.

Brittney decided to deliver the baby at 25 weeks in order for her to receive the chemotherapy necessary for her own health, with minimal risk to the health of the baby. However, the couple who contracted Brittney as a surrogate refused to accept any possibility of early labor, as they were concerned that the baby, if born prematurely, would have serious medical needs.

While Brittney was struggling with this life-altering revelation, the homosexual couple who had hired her as a surrogate changed their minds and used legal threats to exert pressure on her to terminate the pregnancy. They even threatened Brittney’s oncology team with legal action, wanting to direct Brittney’s care. “I felt like just a rented uterus,” Brittney said. “I feel like they didn’t care about me.”

“I cried the whole week leading up to the delivery,” Brittney said.

Multiple families were arranged to adopt the baby in the event the prospective fathers refused to welcome the child. They not only refused to bring the baby to their home, but using their legal right to the child, the two men refused the baby lifesaving medical care, and the boy died shortly after being delivered on Father’s Day.

“I did surrogacy to give people a baby, to try to help in ways that not everybody could,” Brittney said. “They took the whole experience and just completely ruined it.” The couple only wanted the cremated remains of the child.

Brittney’s journey, marked by emotional turmoil and conflicting interests, highlights the ethical complexities surrounding surrogacy arrangements. The circumstances she faced raise important questions about the rights and well-being of surrogate mothers, the unborn child and the obligations of the intended parents.

Despite the noble intentions — even the passionate, heartfelt desire of some for a child — surrogacy is gravely, morally wrong. The Catechism states, “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). Despite the good intentions of surrogate mothers and the heartfelt desire of some to become parents, surrogacy introduces variables and pathways that distort the God-given gifts of parenthood and family life.

Surrogacy commodifies children, reducing the biological parent-child relationship to a commercial transaction. A consumer mentality of parenthood, already introduced by abortion, IVF and the possibility of genetic editing, fundamentally opposes the biblical view that children, whose souls are created directly by God alone, are his gift. This instrumentalization of human life undermines the respect and dignity that every person deserves.

In addition to the violence done to children in surrogacy, surrogacy harms women, threatening expecting women, as Brittney was threatened. A mother’s health is easily dismissed when she is only a means to an end for the couple who is purchasing a child. Pope Francis has denounced surrogacy as “inhumane” cautioning that “women, almost always poor, are exploited, and children are treated as commodities.” Catholic teaching insists on the need to protect the rights and well-being of women, ensuring they are not subjected to physical, emotional or financial exploitation.

The Catholic view encourages alternative means of family-building, such as adoption, which prioritize the well-being of children and respect the dignity and rights of all involved. By promoting adoption and upholding the principles of the inviolable worth of mother and child outlined above, the church seeks to protect the sanctity of human life, the integrity of the family and the dignity of every person.

While we certainly greatly empathize with those couples who struggle with fertility, their desire to have a family cannot change the immutable fact that children are not goods to be bought or sold. When we treat pregnancy or parenthood as monetary transactions — as in the horrific case of Brittney Pearson and her newborn son — children become pieces of property instead of human beings with inherent dignity who are made in the image and likeness of God. And property, unlike people, can be easily discarded.

Our Sunday Visitor Editorial Board: Father Patrick Briscoe, Gretchen R. Crowe, Scott P. Richert, Scott Warden, York Young.

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