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January 28, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) – The public was recently treated to a recording of a discussion by the family of Chinese actress, Zheng Shuang, about what to do with two babies that she had arranged to be born by American surrogate mothers. The babies arrived, awkwardly, after she split up from her boyfriend, the babies’ biological father. The recording was released in the context of a bitter dispute between them and the father.

It’s not clear why Zheng, who is 29 and donated the eggs, wanted to employ other women’s wombs for these pregnancies. Perhaps she has some health reason, or perhaps it was to avoid disrupting her career. After the couple’s split, Zheng and her family have appeared to regard the infants as nothing but an embarrassing inconvenience. Interestingly, surrogacy is illegal in China, and the affair has not gone down well in the Chinese press. Zheng has also been dropped as the Chinese advertising face of the luxury clothing brand, Prada. 

There are of course plenty of minor celebrities, and ordinary people too, whose romantic failures have left small children high and dry. Still, however foolish the earlier behavior may have been, the maternal bond is generally still strong, and grandparents too tend to feel they have something at stake and frequently step in to help pick up the pieces. Those who pay for surrogates to bear children for them, like the Zheng family, by contrast often seem to feel no connection with the children when things go wrong.

This lack of emotional connection is perhaps understandable. There was probably very little personal contact between the biological parents and the birth mothers, and Zheng missed out on the experience of pregnancy. The whole business of surrogacy has truly turned children into goods to be bought, sold, and, ideally, returned if unwanted.

The law on surrogacy is complex, varied, and evolving. In the U.K., we have the quaint legal principle that one cannot own a human body, or any part thereof, which is why there is no trade in human blood or organs over here (or, in principle, in first-class relics). This is connected to the long-standing refusal of English courts to enforce slavery on English soil. For example, in 1772 a recaptured runaway slave, James Somerset, was freed by the courts in a landmark decision. Somerset had been purchased in Boston, then a British colony, and brought to England by his owner.

This means that while surrogacy is not actually illegal in the U.K., surrogacy contracts have no legal standing. On the other hand, in 2017, a U.K. judge insisted that a baby be handed over to the gay couple who had commissioned him (for want of a better term) on the grounds of the biological relationship. (The birth mother did not provide the egg for the conception.)

The laws of different jurisdictions throw up other kinds of anomalies. Whatever rules are devised to regulate surrogacy, the idea that a woman would be obliged by contract to hand over the baby she has delivered remains morally repugnant. The donation of genetic material to create the baby for implantation in someone else’s womb, by those with no intention of having a role in its upbringing, is an appalling abdication of responsibility toward a child by his or her parent. Those who do want to bring the child up bear responsibility for deliberately bringing a child into existence who will not know his or her birth mother, and in many cases at least one of its biological parents, as well as for arranging an in vitro conception, which the Church teaches is always wrong, and paying the other participants in the scheme to act wrongfully.

Like other applications of artificial conception, surrogacy is pushed as a way to help childless couples. It is indeed a tragedy when a couple cannot have a child, though it is noticeable how quickly an exception justified by reference to them starts being used by others out of mere convenience. We have to accept, nevertheless, that in addressing even the most tragic of situations we must be guided by the principles of morality. You may think that robbing a bank, defrauding your employer, or murdering someone will solve some pressing problem in your life, and you may even be right about that, but it does not follow that those things become morally permissible for that reason. Throwing aside the principles of the union of sexuality and conception, of marriage and family, and the bond of mother and child, may seem to open the path for a longed-for outcome, but these principles are not arbitrary constraints on our pursuit of happiness imposed by some cruel deity. They are the principles of the natural law — the law, we could say, of human nature — which show us the path to human happiness and fulfilment, for those our actions impinge on, and also for ourselves. When they are infringed, the result can be the kind of tangled disaster that the Zheng family is now experiencing.

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Dr Joseph Shaw has a Doctorate in Philosophy from Oxford University, where he also gained a first degree in Politics and Philosophy and a graduate Diploma in Theology. He has published on Ethics and Philosophy of Religion and is the editor of The Case for Liturgical Restoration: Una Voce Position Papers on the Extraordinary Form (Angelico Press). He is the Chairman of the Latin Mass Society of England and Wales and Secretary of Una Voce International. He teaches Philosophy in Oxford University and lives nearby with his wife and nine children.