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Humankind has grappled with infertility issues since time immemorial, and surrogacy or remarrying has been the remedy for childlessness. Two types of surrogacy exist, traditional and gestational, with the latter being unnatural because the initial stages involve an in-vitro process (Constantinidis & Cook, 2012). Gestational surrogacy took a cue from traditional surrogacy and gained its current stature from the success of the first test-tube baby, Louise Brown in 1978.
It is thus the form of surrogacy modern people prefer, and even countries have legislation for and against it. In gestational surrogacy, the intended parents donate sperms and ova, which doctors artificially fuse in a test tube, and after the zygote develops, fertility experts transfer and implant it to the surrogate mother (Al-Mubarak, 2015). The baby at birth, therefore, is genetically identical to the intended parents than the surrogate mother, as opposed to traditionally surrogacy where the baby bears attributes of the surrogate mother and biological father. Surrogacy continues in modern society as people have embraced it for a myriad of reasons.
Gomez and Unisa (2015) aver that people prefer surrogacy due to poverty, infertility issues, and a choice not to give birth. The issue of infertility is the major reason why people have embraced both traditional and gestational surrogacy. Poverty is another rationale as poor women in India engage in commercial surrogacy. At a small fee, husbands of the poor women allow white men to impregnate them, carry the baby to term, and then give it away. This arrangement is akin to womb letting, and India has become the global capital of paid surrogacy. The third reason is modern women choose not to undergo gestation with a good number traveling to India to pursue commercial gestation because it is affordable. In light of the above, do Christianity and Islam accept surrogacy and ART?
Surrogacy and Sperm Donation in Islam
According to Al-Mubarak (2015), despite the Islamic law opposing Assisted Reproductive Therapy (ART) and any form surrogacy, the debate about surrogacy is still ongoing. Islamic law rejects surrogacy and ART because they are tantamount to zina (adultery), they negate the conventional procreation process and creation of families and kinships, and thus, haram, illegal. On the contrary, the hadiths in the Quran document Prophet Mohammed siring Ibrahim with Mary, a slave.
This is undisputedly a traditional surrogacy similar to that of Abraham and Hagar in the Bible. Islam further encourages Muslim couples to treat infertility. However, what constitutes allowed and outlawed anti-infertility practices is a gray area with the Shia and Sunni having mixed responses towards the use of ART.
In the Middle East, Sunnis vehemently opposed any form of surrogacy and sperm donations use, while Shia clerics approved the use of sperm and ova donations infertility centers in Iran (Rahmani, Howard, Sattarzadeh, Ferguson, Asgari & Ebrahim, 2014). In accord with their Middle-Eastern counterparts, South East Asian countries that are predominantly Sunni, have their religion and laws treat ART and surrogacy as sacrilegious and felonies, respectively.
This is a great dissimilarity to Shia Iran and Lebanon, which have adopted surrogacy and ART and have even legalized those. Consequently, infertility issues continue to bedevil Muslim couples in Indonesia and other Sunni strongholds. In the above context, the answer as to what anti-infertility options Muslims, whether Shia or Sunni, should pursue given that their religion allows them to cure infertility is not obvious. An analysis of surrogacy and ART based on Sunni or Shia perspectives does not give clear answers to Islam’s overall stance on these subjects. Perhaps a look at what the Quran says about surrogacy might give a clue on what inspires the perceptions held by the Shias and Sunnis.
The Quran states that a woman shall only conceive by her husband, and thus, the act of introducing sperms other than her husband’s and engaging in illegal sexual acts is haram (Al-Mubarak, 2015). Also, the Quran commands women to preserve their chastity until they are married. The commandment means that Islam is against gestational surrogacy, and warns would-be surrogates, married, or unmarried, of dire consequences.
During this time in the Quran, if a woman was barren the scriptures allowed the husband to marry another wife as opposed to surrogacy. In contrast to the earlier stance on surrogacy, the Quran allows a man to have a child with a woman he completely owns but not married to, such as a concubine, evidenced when Prophet Mohammed had Ibrahim from Mary. While Shias allow IVF, intra-uterine insertions (IUI), and gamete donations, Sunnis reject them stems from the fact that the Quran verse on pregnancy does not mention surrogacy.
The Quran does not give clear guidance on ART making Shias and Sunnis face ethical and religious dilemmas. The Quran recommends the treatment of infertility but does not stipulate ART (Al-Mubarak, 2015). Morality stems partly from religion and is a central part of spirituality, which the two groups cannot abandon. The two Muslim groups, therefore, appear to be searching for a way to pacify these important aspects of their lives. The answer, however, is not forthcoming causing Muslim scholars to interrogate various ayas, verses, in a bid to develop an answer to these pertinent problems. Nevertheless, the Sunnis seem to be conservatives as they uphold religion while the Shias uphold both religion and morality.
Surrogacy and Sperm Donation in Christianity
Surrogacy is not new to Christianity, and, the founding father of faith in this religion, Abraham, and his domestic helper, Hagar, are the first practitioners of traditional surrogacy (Gomez & Unisa, 2015). To make this act legitimate, God himself corroborated and ratified it by allowing Abraham to impregnate his domestic helper, after Sarah, Abraham’s wife, sanctioned it. Nevertheless, whether Christianity accepts ART and traditional surrogacy or denounces them is still debated amongst many Christian denominations.
According to Christianity, the act of sexual intercourse should result in procreation and should be a natural process (Opoku & Addai-Mensah, 2014). Sperm donations for gestational surrogacy involve voluntary or induced masturbation, which is not acceptable in Christianity. Based on this stance alone, sperm donations are un-Christian. On the issue of surrogacy, Christians from different denominations hold divergent views.
New age Christians perceive traditional surrogacy to be a sin because it is akin to adultery, and gestational surrogacy is contrary to the natural process of procreation. Furthermore, they perceive both forms of surrogacy as technically, equivalent to polygamy, which their religion also prohibits. However, in Judaism, traditional surrogacy is good since God allowed it and never cursed the participants, Abraham, and Hagar. God blessed the product of that surrogacy, Ishmael. Since there are varied opinions amongst Christians over surrogacy and forms of ART, a look into different beliefs may help in determining the overall stance of Christianity on these issues.
Amongst Orthodox Jews, their religion stipulates that couples’ sexual relations should result in pregnancies and that family is a very crucial part of society. In this regard, ways of procreation that involve intrauterine insemination, IVF, and embryo transfer are not taboo to them. Israel has advanced technologies in surrogacy and gamete donations (Ivry, 2015). As Protestants and Catholics value the sanctity of human life, they regard sexual relationships as the only way of generating children.
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Catholics are, however, against surrogacy and any form of anti-infertility including, IUI, IVF, embryo transfer, sperm and ova donations, and surrogacy (Opoku & Addai-Mensah, 2014). In this light, it seems Judaism and new-age Christians disagree on the various forms of ART to pursue, and on traditional surrogacy. Analysis from a denominational standpoint does not give a clear answer. Perhaps what is more important is looking at what the Bible says about surrogacy.
Genesis Chapter 16 chronicles the first instance of traditional surrogacy (Constantinidis & Cook, 2012). However, the book does not condemn surrogacy but instead raises morality issues. Genesis 1:28 and 2:24 holds that marriage is a union between two people and out of it, offspring should emanate. These verses mean that no third party should be involved in procreation, yet Chapter 16 of Genesis records an event that refutes this interpretation.
The involvement of a third party might bring issues such as those seen during the first traditional surrogacy such as the legitimacy of the child’s mother and jealousy. Additionally, the Bible in the book of Psalms 127: 3 avers that children are gifts from God. So what should a Christian couple do when they are childless? The Bible states that whatever humans ask God earnestly in His name they shall receive. If their want involves praying to get a good surrogate, will God answer? This question lingers in the minds of many Christians. Since the Bible has no clear answer, the reference point for whether or not to adopt surrogacy and different forms of ARTs lies in ethics. As long the ART procedures do not violate the sanctity of life and are done after consistent prayers, perhaps they are valid before both God and man.
Similarities and Differences between Christianity and Islam
Christianity and Islam are unanimous that sexual relations should lead to children, and are a means of heightening fertility (Opoku & Addai-Mensah, 2014). Children perpetuate the family name and legacy into future generations. Men and women were only to bring forth children once married, for both religions advocate for the observance of chastity. This rule was to preserve the integrity of the family and kinship. Islam and Christianity, however, put much emphasis on the paternity of the child, raising ethical questions about the role of maternity. In both Quran and Bible, genealogies are via the patriarch’s name.
Judaism and Islam share a similarity in the fact that they both allow men to conceive with women they are not married to, but own, such as slaves. This is traditional surrogacy, which modern-day Judaists and Muslims perceive to be tantamount to adultery (Al-Mubarak, 2015).
Traditional surrogacy, however, refutes the commandments on chastity and adultery in both Islam and Christianity. Slaves back then were part of a man’s property, and so, the man owned her every part, including her ova and womb. In Judaism, which outlawed polygamy, a man with his wife’s consent, could impregnate a slave given that the wife was infertile. This traditional surrogacy was after a pact between the husband and wife.
Christianity and Islam disagree on whether or not their members should procure IVF and IUI with Shia Muslims and Orthodox Jews are advocating it while Catholics and Sunnis are opposing it. However, both religions oppose embryo transfers and sperm and ova donations (Opoku & Addai-Mensah, 2014).
The reasoning behind Shia’s and Jew’s advocacy could be the fact that a man naturally deposits sperms in the uterus and IUI mimics this process. In IVF, sperm and ova from the parents fuse as they would in-vivo, and so, Shias and Jews allow both IVF and IUI only if the donors are married. The two religions oppose embryo transfers and donations probably because of the inherent ethical issues such as preservation of the sanctity of life and violation of the natural conception process.
Islam and Christianity differ on what a man should do if the wife is barren. In Islam, the Quran allows a man to marry another wife and conceive with her. Christianity, on the other hand, upholds monogamy and only allows a man to remarry if his wife dies or is adulterous but not on the grounds of barrenness. Still, on the issue of barrenness, Islam and Judaism allow traditional surrogacy as a cure, but modern Christians are against it. Modern Christians are adherents of the New Testament and proponents of morality.
Christianity also differs from the Abrahamic religions, Judaism, and Islam, on accepting any form of surrogacy. In particular, it opposes owning of slaves, let alone their impregnation by their masters. The fact that Islam allows a man to conceive with his slave may be the reason why Shia Muslims accept ova donated from women whom they have not married. The eggs, however, must be from a known donor. In some exceptional cases, Muslim scholars allow surrogacy where the sperm and ova donors are religiously married. The donors in some cases are relatives or the sperm and ova of the man’s second wife. Modern Christianity outlaws any form of surrogacy.
Both the Quran and the Bible came into being at a time when assisted reproductive therapy (ART) was non-existent. However, the two books document instances of traditional surrogacy, but they do not give clear stances on surrogacy. In this view, different religions hold on different views of fertility and surrogacy. While some religions and cultures permit surrogacy and sperm donation, others oppose them.
Traditional surrogacy at the time was a remedy for childlessness but not considered an act of adultery. The Quran and the Bible have undergone many interpretations and misinterpretations on contentious issues such as surrogacy and fertility practices. Since the two books do not offer undisputed guidance on these issues, the verses covering surrogacy, procreation, and marriage have seen religious scholars and clerics understand them differently.
Therefore, no religion has a uniform stand on surrogacy and fertility, and the different schools of thought people are expressing out there are their unique interpretations. One thing that is of great importance and should be indispensable in decision-making is the issue of morality. Essentially, the perception of morality from the moral point of view offers a neutral and objective assessment of fertility and surrogacy.
Gestation surrogacy has a negative toll on the surrogates in India and people see it as a patriarchal manipulation of poor women, a capitalist ideology to exploit women, modern-day adultery, and child business. The success of the first in-vitro fertilization (IVF) had doctors, animal biotechnologists, and fertility experts destroy hundreds of embryos. It seems that Islam and Christianity consider these ethical concerns, which inspire their resolutions as opposed to purely religious concerns. Overall, Christianity and Islam hold similar and divergent views on sperm donation and surrogacy.
Al-Mubarak, T (2015). Surrogacy and Islam: Between permissibility and prohibition. Islam and Civilization, 5(2), 277-281.
Constantinidis, D., & Cook, R. (2012). Australian perspectives on surrogacy: the influence of cognitions, psychological and demographic characteristics. Human Reproduction, 0(0), 1-8.
Gomez, V., & Unisa, S. (2015). Surrogacy as a growing practice and a controversial reality in India: Exploring new issues for further researches. Journal of Women’s Health, 4(6), 1-7.
Ivry, T. (2015). The predicament of koshering prenatal diagnosis and the rise of a new rabbinic leadership. Ethnologies Francaise, 45(1), 281-292.
Opoku, J., & Addai-Mensah, P. (2014). A comparative analysis of in-vitro fertilization from the Christian and Islamic point of view. Global Journal of Arts and Social Sciences, 2(7), 47-60.
Rahmani, A., Howard, F., Sattarzadeh, N., Ferguson, C., Asgari, A., & Ebrahim, H. (2014). Viewpoints of fertile women on gestational surrogacy in East Azerbaijan Province, Iran. Indian Journal of Medical Ethics, 11(1), 29-33.