Here’s a case that pushes all kinds of ethical boundaries: a Canadian couple who discovered that their fetus was likely to have Down’s Syndrome decided that they wanted to have an abortion. The practice of aborting fetuses because of birth defects is controversial enough, but to make matters even knottier, the fetus was being carried by a surrogate, who wanted to carry the pregnancy to term.
Under the agreement signed by the couple and the surrogate, this would mean that the parents were not legally responsible for raising the child. But the situation sparked a new debate over the potential need for government intervention and oversight in contracts between parents and the women who carry their children. Many ethicists feel strongly that the surrogate-parent relationship is too delicate to have contract law applied to it, saying that in such cases, the child becomes a product rather than a person.
Bioethicist Juliet Guichon explained, “Should the rules of commerce apply to the creation of children? No, because children get hurt. It’s kind of like stopping the production line: ‘Oh, oh, there’s a flaw.’ It makes sense in a production scenario, but in reproduction it’s a lot more problematic.”
The separate issues of IVF/surrogacy and selective abortion are the subjects of hot debate, but this is the first time that I’ve seen them intersect. In the end, the surrogate decided to have an abortion anyway, but this is an ethical dilemma that courts and legislators need to address, and one that parents and surrogates need to be aware of when they create childbearing contracts.
The problem is that although parents have the right to decide whether they want to raise a child with birth defects (and I would argue, have the right to abort the fetus when they are carrying their own child), the surrogate’s presence adds the complication of another adult who should be given input over what happens to her body. If the parents feel that they can’t raise the child, they should not be compelled to do so simply because they were having the child with the help of a surrogate – that would, ultimately, be cruel to both the parents and the child.
But if the surrogate is opposed to abortion for any reason, she should not be compelled to have one. The question is whether the surrogate is then compelled to raise the child herself, and what rights the parents have. What if the surrogate wants to give the baby up for adoption? Are the parents obligated to help her do so – and if not, are they obligated to give her monetary support?
These are clearly tough questions, ones that don’t have easy answers. They’re also not questions that most parents, even couples who use a surrogate, will have to answer. But the fact that a case like this has surfaced reinforces the fact that in situations where pregnancy becomes a legal contract, parents and surrogates need to explore all possible outcomes before they begin. If the parents are pro-choice and the surrogate is not, that’s something that they need to address before the surrogate becomes pregnant. This is, arguably, a reason for greater government oversight, simply because most parents and surrogates don’t imagine that something like this could happen.
Photo from Flickr.
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