By Jennifer Lahl, CBC President and Ruth Institute Board Member
This article was published at CBCNetwork.org on January 11, 2011.
As millions around the world celebrated the birth of Jesus, Elton John and his partner, David Furnish, issued a press release announcing the birth of their baby boy, born on Christmas Day. Zachary Jackson Levon Furnish-John, a healthy baby, was born through modern, assisted reproductive technologies (ART). Using an anonymous egg donor and a “gestational carrier” (I always think this term sounds more like a new form of aircraft—as in “the cargo just arrived on the newest gestational carrier.” Where is the feminist outrage?!) Elton and David fulfilled one of their greatest wishes: to be parents. They have now joined the ranks of the growing list of celebrities having babies via ART.
This got me thinking about another list I read a few years ago: the “Ten Best Chores to Outsource.” Expecting to see housecleaning, gardening and landscaping, pool cleaning, laundry, I was shocked and saddened by the number one “best chore to outsource”: pregnancy. From the Time piece:
Outsourcing brings to mind big factories and call centers. But entrepreneurs around the globe now offer services—from tutoring to sculpting a bust of your grandpa—to regular folks for a fraction of the cost in the West. Thought the world was flat before? Well, now you can hire someone in India to carry your child.
Entrepreneurs like Rudy Rupak, CEO of medical tourism agency Planet Hospital, are just another example of those who are hopping on the ART modern-family bandwagon. Rupak’s brokering business even offers what his company calls the “India Bundle,” an “affordable” package deal that gives would-be parents an egg donor, four surrogates for four embryo transfers, room and board for the surrogate during the pregnancy, and transportation services when the parents arrive in India to pick up the baby. Costs escalate from there depending on services rendered. Gay couples wanting to do egg-sharing so that each can offer sperm to fertilize the eggs (so that each has a biological child) drives up the price. All the various preimplantation genetic diagnostic tests also drive costs upward. In sum, this setup is a consumer model of baby-making.
Twins cost more, of course, which brings me to the latest craziness: twiblings. Parents Michael and Melanie Thernstrom recently chronicled their entire infertility story, which is not atypical, in The New York Times Magazine. After what Melanie describes as many failed relationships, she finally met Mr. Right, but maternal age hindered her ability to get pregnant, so they were off to the fertility doctor for five failed in vitro fertilization (IVF) cycles. Always wanting twins (perhaps forgetting about risks to maternal and infant health with multiple births), they decided to hire not one but two surrogates, enlisted the help of an egg donor, and “gave birth” to a boy and a girl five days apart. Since the babies were from the same egg donor and they used Michael’s sperm, the children are siblings. Since they were created in the lab at the same time, they are fraternal twins. But given that they were carried in separate surrogate wombs, they have been dubbed twiblings.
Pregnancy has been reduced to a “bits and pieces” brokered industry: sperm from a handsome Scandinavian stud, eggs from a beautiful Ivy League graduate, a womb-for-rent from a poor woman in India trying to provide food and education for her children, and brokers in the middle setting up the legal transactions to build a better baby the 21st-century way.
Meanwhile, cases like those of an Australian couple who aborted their twin boys because they wanted a girl, and Olivia Pratten’s battle for the right to have access to her biological father’s identity (she was born in Canada some 20-plus years ago via anonymous egg donation), make their way through the courts. Just this morning, Nicole Kidman and husband Keith Urban announced the birth of their second child together, brought to term by a carefully selected “gestational carrier.” These are uncharted global waters we are swimming in, and sadly, the international laws are at best ad hoc and at worst woefully unregulated. What is more disheartening to me is the lack of a faithful witness from Western Christians (with the exception of Catholic teaching) in response to infertility. From the twiblings piece, a director of a Los Angeles agency for those in search of a surrogate stated that many of their gestational carriers were “mainly white, working-class women, often evangelical Christians — the kind of girls you went to high school with.”
The basics are well established within Christian orthodoxy: Children are a blessing and a gift, not a right. They should be begotten, not made. ART is the manufacturing of children, often by design and often using third parties, and a violation of the doctrine of the two flesh becoming one. In the Garden, husband and wife were a complete family. This was declared very good, even without children being part of the story at that point. While infertility is a sad and difficult occurrence for those who want children, it has been made even more difficult because of a lack of clear Protestant thinking on the matter. Infertility is not a death sentence. Children are not products to be made. Our reproductive bodies are not to be blithely parceled and sold to someone else. And pregnancy is not a chore to be outsourced.
It’s time for some more serious corrective thinking lest the reproductive madness get even more out of control, and we be morally complicit in furthering the exploitation of some lives for the making of another.