by Peter Menkin
In this article-interview, Peter Menkin spoke with Professor Gerard Magill from his office in his home in Mill Valley, California north of San Francisco with the Professor in his home office in Pennsylvania. They talked for an aggregate of about an hour by phone. Their subject was surrogacy. Dr. Magill provides answers to written questions sent in advance and gives his opinions. In an earlier conversation in background given to Religion Writer Peter Menkin by phone, Dr. Magill said, and I paraphrase here:
I started in the field of Catholic moral theology and then moved to bio ethics when I began to grow in the academy. The field is 30 years old, and I started in 1987 in the United States. I did my undergraduate degree and Masters degree at Gregorian University, Rome, and Doctorate at Edinburough University Scotland.
The field developed because of end of life issues and research ethics in medicine. (The Quinlen Case caught my interest as it appeared in the Supreme Court of New Jersey in 1976; it was then that it became a major issue and a pivotal matter that I had been working on for years prior to that event.) Surrogacy and its various ramifications, including the legal cases were an intellectual matter with Dr. Magill, not personal or private matters with him.
I was Department Chair at St. Louis University and after ten years stood down and Duquesne University invited me to hold the very prestigious Vernon S. Gallagher Chair. It is for the integration of science, theology, philosophy and law. That is why it is so prestigious and Doctor Magill has expertise in his academic achievement in all four areas. He is advanced academically and quite accomplished.
Dr. Magill opened the first department in bio-ethics in the United States at St. Louis University in 1996. He was born in Scotland and became a United States Citizen about 15 years ago.
Readers will note that question four is highlighted by Gene Koprowski’s statement on the Biblical figure Abraham. The Reverend Gene’s view of that Genesis figure is an opinion on Abraham’s relationship with Hagar who carried and gave birth to Abraham’s child as a surrogate is the point of the highlight. Professor Magill takes the Ukranian Orthodox Priest and Medical Doctor Gene Koprowski’s analysis of Abraham’s surrogacy from the Bible into account and comments on it in his answer to question four. Gene Koprowski is also a noted journalist and was invited to add this question to broaden the perspective of questions for Professor Magill, adding one posed for him from the Bible. Gene Koprowski confirms this statement regarding his background: . “I am an Eastern Orthodox priest — on the synod of bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in fact, soborna.org . Of course I am here in the USA!!!”
INTERVIEW ON SURROGACY WITH DR. GERARD MAGILL BY PETER MENKIN
- A popular notion is that people today want perfect children. To do this they will go to extreme lengths, usually scientific and expensive. For reasons beyond this writer’s imagination, this practice is linked to artificial surrogacy, where a baby is bought and the pregnancy created by artificial insemination. Part of the contract for birth, is that the child be “perfect.” My question: Is this part of the pursuit for the perfect baby, and why is it that these adults don’t look for love of child but the “Maserati” of the perfect thing that a baby can be?
Typically, surrogacy is used to deal with problems of infertility, the problem between a husband and wife, a couple living together whether heterosexual or homosexual. Surrogacy is typically not used to have a perfect baby. It is incapable of genomic manipulation, which is involved with designer babies. Surrogacy like any other form of Invitro fertilization (IVF), which permits the potential parents to pick a healthy baby. That is a baby without specific disease traits. The debate on designer babies is a different debate. The lay person confuses the argument on designer babies with the debate on surrogacy.
- Is it that the world, which means Northern Europe and the developed nations mostly, find baby buying and womb renting both immoral and illegal linked to their religious sensibilities or is it that they just are different from Americans? It is America that European homosexuals with money flock to so they can have a surrogate who will get them a baby for a price. Here the high price for carrying a baby to term for pay is $47,000, so sources like Google report. But mostly, is it that the major developments of technological and scientific boom in the ability to artificially impregnate women and have them successfully carry a child to term has created this “big” business of baby selling in America? By the way it is forbidden in most of the world outside America, says The New York Times.
The practice of surrogacy is a global phenomenon that is not restricted merely to the United States. Jurisdictions and nations typically adopt one of three positions. First outright prohibition. Second, legalized surrogacy without payment, but with expense reimbursement. Number three, legalized surrogacy with expense reimbursement and legalized payment for services. To use the metaphors of baby buying and womb rental, do not convey the complex decisions that responsible parents make when they are infertile. Indeed, the debate on payment and reimbursement is important, but it should not be used to defame responsible decision makers. The fundamental criterion is an infertile couple wants a baby and medical science enables them to have a baby. The debate defending surrogacy is primarily about honorable couples having a baby not about corruption and money.
- Tell us how a woman can artificially have a child by a man, whether he is married, single, homosexual partnered or by himself. Does the woman need a living man?
This questions gets to the question of surrogacy. Those who oppose surrogacy make several arguments. Surrogacy tends towards commodification of the child. The child tends towards becoming a product. Secondly, surrogacy also becomes a problem of exploitation of the surrogacy of the mother. That is the exploitation of poor women in poor countries being exploited for surrogacy. The next reason deals with the contracting of a human body such as occurs in prostitution or slavery. Another problem is called fertility tourism, where first world countries go to third world countries in large numbers for surrogacy. Finally, there is the question of the surrogate mother of keeping the child or having an abortion. So it raises the question of retaining the child or having an abortion. Despite all these problems there are occasions when surrogacy appears to be justified. For example, unwanted embryos in cryopreservation tanks in fertility clinics can be rescued and be given life by a surrogate mother opting for early adoption. That is a situation of rescue ethics that can justify surrogacy. This shows that surrogacy can be justified in some cases. In other words this is not a simple problem. This is secular ethics and religious ethics.
- In Genesis, Abraham has a child with Hagar who carries his son as a surrogate mother successfully. Why is this acceptable in society, perhaps in some ways even in our contemporary world, yet buying a baby from a surrogate mother is not? That would be a mother who is impregnated naturally, not through scientific methods artificially, and carried to natural birth through natural pregnancy. Yes, one must qualify the form of successful pregnancy in our scientific world, and I emphasize that in my question the mother who is this surrogate carries the child through birth by means of impregnation by the real father who with his wife will keep the child. I say again they pay the surrogate for the baby and the rental of her womb. She is not just stuck with sperm artificially, though this is done, too. This is America, and babies are bought many ways scientific, mostly.
Here is Gene Koprowski’s answer to the question: A number of Jewish interpretive, or midrash, stories present Hagar as someone who was worthy to live in Abraham and Sarah’s home because her father (the Pharaoh of Egypt) acknowledged the existence of the Lord. Hagar would bear children to Abraham and was herself a princess. She was a good match for the father of the Israelite nation. She, what is more, was suited to be the mother of Ishmael, from whom twelve chieftains would issue in accord with the divine promise in Gen. 17:20.
Sarah set Hagar’s fate: to whom she would be married; and when she would be sent away from the house. Gen. 16:2: “Consort with my maid; perhaps I shall have a son [or: I shall be built up] through her.”
The Rabbis deduced from this that anyone who is childless is like a ruined house that must be rebuilt. Abraham heeded Sarah’s advice and accepted her spirit of divine inspiration (Gen. Rabbah45:2).
This was acceptable, as it was not seen as the “buying of a baby,” per your question. Sarah sanctioned the union at that time. Hagar was already part of the family, so to speak, as she, per interpretive tradition, was part of Sarah’s dowry upon her marriage to Abraham.
The Torah’s description of Hagar’s impregnation (Gen. 16:4) notes, “He cohabited with Hagar and she conceived.”
This was no commercial surrogacy transaction. They lived together. She was part of the household, a very religious household that spoke with angels all the time. When Hagar encountered the angel of the Lord, he informed her (Gen. 16:11): “Behold, you are with child and shall bear a son.”
Sarah and Abraham were seeking to fulfill the covenant of Genesis 16: 7-16 with the birth of this child. This was years before Sarah herself conceived and had Isaac.
Several points need to be made regarding the story of Hagar. First, in so far as Hagar gave birth outside of marriage in a manner that the Old Testament approved, it becomes clear that Scripture should not be simply applied to modern day. In other words, typically Scripture has to be interpreted within Church tradition today. And most churches do not interpret Scripture in a literal manner. Number two. This means that we cannot simply apply the story of Hagar to the issue of surrogacy today. Number three. However lessons can be learned from the story of Hagar. Most especially, it appears that the Hagar story suggests a broader view of procreation than merely restricting to husband and wife and natural intimacy. Last point. The story of Hagar can inspire a more positive view of families using surrogacy, to have children. In other words, the Hagar story cautions us against too quickly condemning surrogacy. So the final point is, just as with the Hagar story, there may be forms of surrogacy today that are permittable.
Just as the Hagar story cannot be literally interpreted to guide morality, similarly, contemporary concepts or practices like commercial surrogacy cannot be superimposed upon Old Testament stories.
- I am glad you took the time to talk with us about surrogacy, Professor. I am sure readers would like to know what we may have missed. So if you have something additional to add, please add it here. And thank you again for allowing us to make your acquaintance.
In summary, there are many complex problems with surrogacy that make it unacceptable to many. Nonetheless, there are specific situations where surrogacy appears justified. For example, to rescue frozen embryos as a form of early adoption in a loving family.
Duquesne University video