Anne Lastman

The Holy father Pope Francis on January 8th made a statement which sent social media and secular media into frenzy. Pope Francis calls for a universal ban on surrogate motherhood.

Using words such as “despicable” practice of surrogate motherhood which he concluded as the commercialisation of “pregnancy” in his annual speech in which he listed the many threats to global and human peace and the determined destruction of human dignity.

There will be much written about this in the coming days, weeks, and months, especially by the naysayers who are ready to attack anything Pope Francis says, writes and does.

We do have biblical precedence of this occurring is not new, and indeed we have biblical precedence with Abraham, Sarai, and Hagar and their solution to childlessness.

Since Sarah had yet to bear Abraham a child, and heir, her idea to fulfill the promise that God had made to her husband, to be the father of many nations, was to offer her Egyptian slave girl, Hagar, to Abraham, so that they could have a child by her and then the child would be raised by Sarah and Abraham as their own child and the child would fulfill the promises made by God to Abraham.  Abraham consented to this arrangement, taking Hagar as wife when he was in his late 85th year of age and fathering Ishmael.   

Surrogacy, flying quietly under the radar has in modern times slowly taken its own place (along with IVF) within the life world and nothing or no one seems to have said much on this.  We have heard of “famous” movie stars who speak of having a child by a surrogate mother, same sex individuals having babies/children by surrogates, women for whom the maintenance of body image but still wanting a child using surrogate and even barrenness leading to desire for a child using surrogacy. Recently a news item ran a story about a grandmother carrying in her womb her grandchild and the mother and father of the child thought it wonderful that the same womb carried the mother and then her child.  Already surrogacy has taken a different step on its own slippery slope. 

 Whilst this is thought by some as strange morality and by some even disgusting, the customs of that time of Abraham dictated that no man should die without an heir and ways were devised to remedy this perceived shame.  While Hagar was acknowledged as the birth mother, the child conceived would belong (object to be traded) to Sarah and Abraham and if Sarah (legal wife) and Abraham did not have their own child then this child (Ishmael) would be the heir. But never fully belonging only tentatively until if or when one was born to the covenanted couple, then this new conception would supersede the child born from the transaction between Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar. 

Genesis 16:7-16 describes the naming of Ishmael, and later Yahweh‘s promise to Hagar concerning Ishmael and his descendants. This occurred at the well of Beer-lahai-Roi, located in the desert region between Abraham’s settlement and Shur

Hagar fled there after Sarai dealt harshly with her for showing contempt for her mistress following her having become pregnant. Here, at the well, Hagar encountered an angel of Hashem who instructed her to return and be submissive to Sarah so that she could give birth to the child there. The blessing that this child’s father was promised was that his (Abraham’s) descendants would be as numerous as the dust of the earth or even as numerous as the stars of heaven. However, the fulfillment of the promise would be by a son of Sarah; yet God would make of this child, Ishmael, also a great nation, because he was of the seed of Abraham. When Ishmael was born, Abraham was 86 years old.  Other Biblical references to surrogacy include Gen 16:1-16; Gen. 30: 1-8; Gen. 9:13; Deut: 25: 5-6. 

So, surrogacy has a known history of at least five thousand years. 

What makes surrogacy attractive to modern thought is the fact that movie stars and high-profile figures have made it legitimate.  The “gestational carrier” term removes the word  mother and idea and reality that it’s possible to “buy” or even “create” (IVF) “trade” a child to satisfy the desires of the adults thus making a commodity of the human being. Removing completely the dignity inherent in each human being created through an embrace and desired for who he/she was rather than preempting a misread promise of God.

The Pope has used strong words when speaking and banning surrogacy because as he rightly says, the child conceived is conceived to fulfill a promise, deal, document of transaction for a fee for the purchase of the child.  Human trafficking from even preconception and in this there is the removal of “desire” factor, “love” factor, “dignity” factor. 

In an era when 70,000,000 abortions per year occur and only miniscule availability of babies for adoption then it becomes possible to see why the “manufacture” of babies to satisfy the wants of those who can afford them is a response prideful, anathema.

When we speak out against surrogacy it’s often thought that we are ungrateful, hypocritical, anti-life because in these cases a child is wanted, and not aborted  (though can and will be if found disabled or be rejected and left behind  when not as expected ) and so it should be a win win situation for all.  But this misses the point.

The point and the problem with surrogacy is that a child is “created” to satisfy the “want” of those who want a baby in any way and at any cost possible to get a baby.  It in fact, becomes a race to satisfy the want through a commercial transaction.  Most often poor surrogate mothers found and engaged because of their need for financial reward. 

Again, as I have mentioned in past writings, I am reminded of Professor Salvatore Mancuso of the Catholic University of Rome who said that beginning from the fifth week gestation an infinite number of messages pass from baby to mother through chemical substances.  This dialogue between mother and child alerts the mother to the new creation she is carrying and helps her to adapt psychologically and physically to the reality that she is carrying a new creation.  Further, the child (embryo) sheds and sends stem cells which colonize the mother’s brain stem and attach to it and remain with her for the rest of her life. Furthermore, these cells have receptors for neurotransmitters which assist messages to pass, and which the mother’s nervous system can comprehend and respond to.

The baby’s cells pass to the mother in large quantities at birth whether by natural birth or caesarian and even abortion, and have been found in the mother up to 30 years after the child’s birth.  It’s as though thoughts pass from mother to child even years after birth. This is the intimacy of conception which only a mother can experience and the tragedy which is abortion or even adoption and surrogacy.  There is a longing for someone lost. The longing for a child conceived for surrogacy purposes  at times leading to a mother not wanting to surrender that child which she contracted to give to the future parents. A deep connection has been formed and her mother’s heart is unable to surrender the child she carried even at the loss of the fees transacted and their insecure future. 

When we consider the intimacy of conception and the intricacy and dialogue which goes on from the moment of conception till birth, then employing a surrogate creates a grave injustice both for mother and child because these two are linked through invisible dialogue and thread for the rest of their lives and giving of the child to another causes an innate sense of loneliness for both. A longing for another. 

When compared to adoption, which surrogacy often is, there is a difference in the two decisions concerning children.  Adoption always places the welfare of an already born child first, and whilst this may not always appear to be so to the child and later adult, adoption has said “yes” to life and “no” to death (abortion).  Surrogacy on the other hand had said “yes” to life but conditional.  The conditions being financial, and commodification of a woman and child without considering the deep relationship which would develop between a woman and her body’s response, dialogue, and relationship with the new very special  guest she is carrying in her body.

To return to the Biblical precedent of surrogacy, indeed the fulfillment of the promise of a child for Abraham via the medium of surrogacy was achieved, but the long-term ramifications have not been good.  Ishmael, the innocent child and not child of the covenant did grow to become the “father” of many nations as foretold by God but the suffering which has endured between the descendants of Ishmael and the descendants of Isaac (family feud) has endured  for many millennia. Sarah’s desire for a child at any cost, using any means has cost her people, and the children of both her surrogate, Hagar, very dearly there has never been peace between the two brother which continues to this day.

Surrogacy whilst ostensibly appearing something good, ultimately has pain inscribed into it. This because God did not create humanity for the purpose of buying and selling themselves and forgetting that there is something which cannot be bought, dignity and love written within the mother’s cells.