Francesco Occhetta, SJ

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Surrogate maternity refers to the act of procreation where a woman agrees to carry to term a pregnancy and then subsequently give the newborn infant to the commissioning couple. Surrogacy is one of the most delicate and pressing issues in public debate, complicated further by the different ways it is defined; for example, “third-party reproduction,” “donor-assisted reproduction,” or “womb for rent.”

The anthropological and ethical questions that this practice raises go to the root of the meaning of life, the body, the mother-child relationship, dignity and memory, but also of gift and reciprocity. It seems that in political debate, the categories of humanism have been substituted for those of post-humanism, and that public reflection merely accepts passively the achievements of science. The Church’s magisterium, on the other hand, invites us to integrate new biological and technical discoveries so as to place them in an anthropological horizon focused on the meaning of human life and dignity. From here we will highlight certain discernment criteria to fully understand the practice of surrogate maternity.

Surrogate motherhood: definition and comparison

There are several different types of surrogate maternity: in its narrowest form, an embryo is obtained from the male gametes of the couple and the female gametes of the surrogate mother. In this case, the woman who provides the uterus is the same who provides the ovum. There is also what is referred to as total surrogate maternity, in which the sperm belongs to a male donor, while the mother who gives birth to the baby provides her uterus, but not the ovum. This is the case, for example, where pregnancy is carried to term of an already fertilized egg, formed by the union of reproductive cells of the commissioning couple.

In those countries where surrogate maternity is permitted, the biological mother, who provides the ovum, is not the one who gives, or rents her uterus to carry to full-term the gestation. It is this technical distinction that permits those cultural positions in favor of surrogate procreation to justify a legal figure, who instead of being a genetic mother, is a form of incubator. In medical terms, distinguishing these functions and procreative tasks makes the gestation somehow “neutral” and there is no biological bond with the commissioning couple.

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