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Surrogacy’s next logical step?

Deep evil comes disguised as technological promise


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Surrogacy’s next logical step?
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A philosophy professor from Norway, Anna Smajdor, recently made quite an argument in the journal Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics. It may be best to sit down for this one, but here we go: Women who are in persistent vegetative state or are brain dead could be used as surrogates to gestate babies for commissioning parents. There, she said it.

Proponents of surrogacy usually make a big deal of the surrogate woman’s consent in contracting to carry that baby for the commissioning parents. It’s a version of “you go, girl.” It empowers women, they say. Not letting these women sign up to be surrogates if they want to is patronizing, they say. “My body, my choice,” they say.

But just as the abortion rhetoric involving “my body, my choice” betrays women, who are all too often between a rock and a hard place and face pressure to abort, surrogacy’s rhetoric of choice has always been haunted by the exploitation of the poor. For it is just the way the thing works that the commissioning parents are disproportionately wealthy, while the surrogate women—the ones who are implanted with prize embryos, are pumped full of drugs, get pregnant, deliver the baby, and hand over the baby as per the contract—are disproportionately poor. Some have observed the uncomfortable congruence between organ-selling and surrogacy as organ-renting—and for good reason.

Sure enough, Professor Smajdor informs us, surrogacy is for those who can’t have children—and also for those who, ahem, “prefer not to” gestate. It’s a thing for the rich, you know, social surrogacy is. Pregnancy is hard on the body and rough on the professional calendar—so let’s outsource it to the poor.

But here’s the thing. Professor Smajdor’s argument reveals surrogacy more clearly. Consent isn’t the whole thing, is it? The good news is the gnostic assumption in surrogacy is materializing, clearer for everyone to see. The bad news is it’s a monster, a thing of horror. 

Surrogacy assumes that we are not embodied beings in our body-soul unity as we actually are, but that the “real” person is the soul, severable from the body.

Surrogacy assumes that we are not embodied beings in our body-soul unity as we actually are, but that the “real” person is the soul, severable from the body. That’s why in surrogacy the body is no more than an artifice, raw material to manipulate. That’s why children are manufactured in a lab through IVF, not conceived through the only rightly ordered means for human beings: begotten, not made. That’s why these babies end up being treated as luxury goods to the rich— “hand luggage,” as recently dubbed. That’s why wombs are being rented—which inevitably leads to commodifying the woman. She ceases to be the “surrogate mother,” only a “gestational carrier.” Notice the erasure of the person; cue the object in “carrier.” She, a being made in the very image and likeness of God Himself, is reduced to an oven.

There is a name for this vile, monstrous idea of body-self dualism. It’s an ancient, hydra-headed heresy. Gnosticism is its name, and it is one of the most ancient enemies of Christianity.

If surrogacy has snuffed incense to one of the deities of modernity, autonomy, here comes gnosticism, another deity, calling for the worship (and sacrifice) due unto her. Following gnosticism’s inherent logic, the body is nothing more than a hunk of meat. Forget the song and dance about obtaining the woman’s consent to be a surrogate: Let’s just use the oven! Pop in the bun and turn it on! Denying embodied anthropology, no consent is needed—because the body can’t consent if the “real person” in the form of her soul is a goner: She’s brain dead anyway. She’s in a persistent vegetative state anyway.

But we know that man’s imago Dei status, our Image-bearing worth and dignity, is created in our embodied form, not apart from it. The Incarnation affirms this and celebrates it: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory.” Christ the eternal Logos came to be incarnate (literally enfleshed) in the Person of Jesus, Son of Mary. The Cross and Resurrection redeem us in the body. Jesus was crucified, His body hanging on the cross, with nails through His hands and feet, a spear through His side. Bodily He rose from dead, and in the body He shall come again, with glory, to judge both the quick and the dead—at the resurrection of the body. It is in the body we will live in the kingdom that shall have no end.

That same Jesus shall bruise the serpent’s head. Meanwhile, loving our neighbor, of profound worth and dignity as an image-bearer—whether she be conscious or no—requires rejecting surrogacy and these gnostic ideas. So, to the good professor: No, thanks. And may all the babies be conceived the only way as ever they should, begotten of their parents from the loving embrace of the conjugal act, born of the only mother they know.


Adeline A. Allen

Adeline A. Allen is an associate professor of law at Trinity Law School.


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