Rejecting the child before his or her birth to a surrogate mother provokes lots of questions.
The efforts of the former co-host of "The View" to have a child—and the fallout from those efforts—give cause to again reflect on the Church’s teaching regarding IVF, the family, and what it means to bring children into the world.
First, the background. Shepherd and her husband, unable to conceive a child naturally, turned to IVF using Shepherd’s own eggs. When that also failed to produce a child for them, they used a surrogate’s eggs, the husband’s sperm and a surrogate to carry the baby, thus leaving Shepherd herself with no genetic ties to the child.
But then her marriage broke down, with Shepherd accusing her husband of defrauding her into agreeing to have the child so he could then divorce her and sue for child support. According to media reports, Shepherd now “does not want to be considered a parent because she does not want to take financial responsibility” and that “she allegedly wants a judge to rule she has no parental rights for the baby due at the end of the month.”
Everyone instinctively understands when a husband and wife desire to have children and the duty parents owe their children to love them and raise them within in a loving and stable family. Infertility is heartbreaking when a husband and wife truly desire children.
Yet the desire for children is not paramount to the child himself or herself. Dignitas Personae teaches that such a desire for children “should not override the dignity of every human life to the point of absolute supremacy. The desire for a child cannot justify the ‘production’ of offspring, just as the desire not to have a child cannot justify the abandonment or destruction of a child once he or she has been conceived.”
While IVF may address this desire for children on the part of the adults, it fails to acknowledge and gives no consideration to the right of children to be raised in a stable, loving home by his biological parents. It affirms a mindset (conscious or not) that children are willed into being by parents and technology, rather than welcomed into life lovingly as gifts.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has stated that “Our ability to cooperate with God in generating a new human being is not just a bodily function. It is a personal gift from God—exclusively shared by husband and wife, who thereby share responsibility for bringing this new child into the world in a uniquely personal way. So while the desire to share that gift with each other and have a child is positive and natural, some means used to have a child revere and respect this great gift while others do not,” IVF being among the latter.
As the bishops further state:
The Shepherd IVF/surrogacy debacle is an all too sordid witness to this truth; both Shepherd and her spouse have indeed “decided not to be fully the mother and father of their child.” In fact, they have gone even further. Using IVF to produce a child for the sole purpose of fulfilling their desire to have a child, they now treat that child as an object they “bought” with the mother now wanting to return and have no part of (after all, her relation to the child was merely contractual) and the father allegedly having wanted to use the child as a means to extort money from the mother.
Of course, not all resorts to IVF and/or surrogacy result in such sordidness. Many children conceived by IVF are cherished by the couples who raise them. Yet all too often, egg donors are exploited by being subjected to risky drugs and procedures. Surrogate mothers, typically impoverished women with no marketable skills are exploited, risking their health by repeatedly renting out their womb for children with whom they bond and then lose at birth. And let’s not forget all the lives conceived by IVF and frozen, discarded or destroyed in the name of scientific research.
Even when the surviving child is cherished by the couple who contracted for an IVF baby, that child is nevertheless deprived (in donor IVF or surrogacy) of knowing one or more of his biological parents. It’s an emptiness no one else can fill. Children who find their sperm donor fathers often end up feeling isolated and rejected all over again.
There is an alternative to all this. Couples who truly desire children but cannot conceive on their own, should be encouraged to consider adoption: “In order to come to the aid of the many infertile couples who want to have children, adoption should be encouraged, promoted and facilitated by appropriate legislation so that the many children who lack parents may receive a home that will contribute to their human development. (Dignitas Personae, 13). With adoption, none are exploited. Rather, the dignity of mother, father and child are reaffirmed.
Gene Tarneis a senior analyst with the Charlotte Lozier Institute (lozierinstitute.org). He has been involved with the life issues for over 20 years.