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The modern breakthrough in the medical field and specifically in the area of assisted reproduction has resulted in the emergence of new types of families in the contemporary society whereby genetic parenthood does not necessarily guarantee social parenthood (Golombok et al., 2004).
Surrogacy, one of the forms of assisted reproduction refers to an arrangement where one woman offers to bear a child on behalf of another person.
There are two types of surrogacy arrangements; traditional surrogacy which involves situations where the surrogate mother donates her womb as well as her egg in order to provide a baby and this consequently renders the surrogate mother biologically connected to the child since they share genetic material (Ziegler, 2004). This method is widely preferred since it is considerably less expensive than gestational surrogacy.
In gestational surrogacy, the surrogate mother lacks genetic connection whatsoever with the child since and her role is to donate only her womb to carry the child. Both the egg and the sperm are produced by the commissioning parents and the embryo is then created in the lab after which after which it is then transferred into the surrogate’s uterus (Ziegler, 2004).
Although surrogacy has an ancient history dating back to the biblical times, the issue began to raise controversy in the contemporary society in the 80s with major concerns being raised regarding children welfare and women rights (Golombok et al, 2004).
Surrogacy has been executed through artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization which has received a lot of opposition from the institution of family, religion and the society at large.
In fact, of all the assisted reproduction procedures that are being utilized in the modern society, surrogacy remains the most contentious method prompting most legal systems in the world to formulate regulations to govern the practice (Golombok et al, 2004).
Reasons for Prevalence Of Surrogacy in the Modern Society
Some couples opt for surrogacy to provide a solution in case one of the partners is incapable of having a child either due to infertility or other factors (Jonsen, 1998).
The female partner may e experiencing medical complications with her uterus, ovaries or other complications that may inhibit her ability to conceive children and use of a surrogate mother provides the couple with a means through which the couple can acquire a child who is related to one of the partners.
In addition, the use of surrogate mothers provides an easier opportunity for the infertile mother to have a child while avoiding the bureaucratic and cumbersome procedures associated with traditional adoption and also provides her with an opportunity to raise a child who is genetically related to her partner (Jonsen, Veatch., & Walters, 1998).
Surrogacy also benefits the fertile partner by providing an opportunity for him to conceive and raise a child who is biologically tied to him and this further avoids ugly situations in marriages such as divorce, polygamy, and adulterous unions among others (Jonsen, Veatch., & Walters, 1998).
Further, the use of a medical practitioner in the entire process of surrogacy considerably reduces the above events and other factors that may promote destruction of the institution of the family.
Proponents of surrogacy have argued that through surrogate motherhood, a child is given a chance to live and this would otherwise have not have been possible in absence of such arrangements and the child also benefits from being reared by parents who wanted the child so much that they were willing to withstand financial, legal and other hardships to have this child.
Further, One preliminary study revealed that about one third of the surrogate mothers may use the process to help them deal with past experiences that have negatively affected them psychologically. Women that may have undergone abortions or voluntarily given up their children for adoption may utilize this arrangement to derive psychologically satisfaction (Jonsen, Veatch., & Walters, 1998).
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Although there exists numerous potential risks associated with surrogacy arrangements, those risks can be understood by the prospective participants to weigh the effectiveness and drawbacks of using this method of assisted reproduction (Josen 1998). Surrogate motherhood has received extensive media attention in the recent past and has raised a lot of emotional reactions and ethical concerns in the modern society.
The issues raised range from inclusion of third party in the process of procreation and in the basic family set up to the psychological consequences of the arrangement to the parties involved especially the child.
Unfortunately scholars lack adequate information to assess the impacts of these issues on the parties involved since the activities surrounding surrogacy such as sperm donation and infertility are still treated with utmost secrecy consequently limiting the scope of the study (Jonsen, Veatch., & Walters, 1998).
Effects of Surrogacy Arrangement on the Family
There lacks a systematic controlled investigation on the consequences of surrogacy in family relationships but some studies conducted on assisted reproduction show no adverse effects of these methods on parenting (Golombok et al, 2004).
Parents of genetically related children conceived through In Vitro fertilization have been found to display good relationships with their children and when differences have been found to exist between IVF parents and natural conception parents, the differences have tended to reflect higher levels of anxiety among IVF parents of infants and preschool children (Golombok et al, 2004).
These mothers who had their children conceived through IVF tended to be more protective of their children and they allowed their children less autonomy relative to natural mothers. Further these parents viewed their children as more vulnerable and special and also demonstrated less maternal efficacy than natural conception mothers (Golombok et al, 2004).
Surrogacy arrangements are characterized by anxiety and uncertainties generated throughout the period of pregnancy until the commissioning couple receives the child. This results from lack of a guarantee that the surrogate mother will relinquish the child upon birth since in some past cases surrogate mothers have refused to give up the child to the intended parents (Golombok et al, 2004).
Consequently the commissioning parents must ensure that there exists a mutually acceptable relationship between them and the surrogate and they may negatively impact on the couple’s relationship. Greater difficulties may be further experienced by the commissioning mother who may be neither the genetic nor the gestational mother and may feel insecure and excluded in their mothering role (Golombok et al, 2004).
Moral Aspects of Surrogacy
One of the dangers inherent surrogacy arrangements is that it may amount to commodification of children (Hendrick, 2010). The arrangement may serve to promote the perception that children complete a family like any other consumer goods. Some scholars have warned about the emergence of ‘capitalist baby industry’ which may result in commodification of children as well as the personal attributes such as sex, color height etc.
However, the argument that surrogacy turns babies into a market commodity seems a little far fetched with some scholars acknowledging that the argument is to some extent exaggerated and the child exchange is valid only to the extent that the surrogacy is regarded as objectionable (Hendrick, 2010).
Various arguments have been put forward to explain the psychological effects of surrogacy on children on the knowledge of their true identity.
Negative impacts are especially likely to arise in situations where the children share a strenuous relationship with the commissioning parents and the knowledge that they had come to this world as a result of a commercial arrangement may cause further damage to the relationship and may also interfere with the child’s development and self esteem (Hendrick, 2010).
However, due to lack of adequate and clear empirical evidence on the long term psychological effects of surrogacy, we can only make predictions about its long term impacts on children and the institution of the family.
It is clear that even though surrogacy is problematic, it is just as problematic as any other conventional family and the dangers involved are neither inevitable nor insurmountable. Therefore, the society should focus more on regulation of the practice rather than involving themselves in pessimistic speculations of its outcome (Hendrick, 2010).
Legal Aspects of Surrogacy
Universal laws pertaining surrogacy are dynamic (Ziegler, 2004). It is therefore vital for the parties involved in the arrangement opt consult an experienced attorney in drawing and implementation of the contract.
In the United States back in 2004, only two states were considered ‘surrogate friendly’; California and Arkansas, with California having the case law on how to handle such arrangements consequently making it the most favorable state for surrogacy arrangements (Ziegler, 2004).
A considerable number of states lacked outlined laws governing surrogacy and most of them treated it like adoption while in other states such as Washington and New York criminalized paid surrogacy.
Most surrogacy legislation fails to give a clear cut distinction in terms of provisions for gestational and traditional surrogacy (Sauer, 1998). As the traditional method continues to be the most preferred method due to its cost efficiency, most states requires stepparent adoption by the intended mother before a final adoption order is permitted and in some states it is subject to the surrogate’s change of heart.
One of the most important components of an egg donor agreement is that it involves relinquishment of parental rights by the donor upon the birth of the child and under the agreement the child is considered to belong to the intended parents (Sauer, 1998).
Where the contract for surrogate parenting is unenforceable, there are remedies provided for the parties involved (Freedman, 1991). The genetic father involved in the surrogacy is readily acknowledged as the biological father of the child and consequently expected to support the child and the surrogate if she keeps the child.
However, the burden of proof lies on the surrogate who should prove that the said person is the biological father of the child and may use the human leucocytes antigen test to resolve the paternity issue. In addition, she is needed to prove that the state statute that renders the sperm donor free of any responsibility to a child conceived through artificial conception does not apply in her case (Freedman, 1991).
Freedman, W. (1991). Legal issues in biotechnology and human reproduction: artificial conception and modern genetics, UK: Greenwood publishing.
Golombok, S., Murray, C., Jadva, V., MacCallu, F., and Lycett, E. (2004). Families created through surrogacy arrangements: parent-child relationship in the first year of life. Web.
Hendrick, J. (2010). Laws and ethics in children’s nursing, UK: John Wiley and sons.
Jonsen, R. A., Veatch, M. R., and Walters, L. (1998). Source book in bioethics, Washington DC: Georgetown University press.
Sauer, V. M. (1998). Principles of oocyte and embryo donation. NY: Springer.
Ziegler, S. (2004). Pathways to parenthood: the ultimate guide to surrogacy. London: universal publishers.