Whether or not surrogacy is ethical has been debated almost since the advent of surrogacy itself. How do you choose what’s right for you?

The question “is surrogacy ethical”, is incredibly multi-layered. Even though laws, policy, legislation, and practice surrounding surrogacy seem to all hinge directly on the response to this question: there is no simple answer.

Surrogacy is not a black and white subject. The risks and benefits are difficult to quantify and change greatly on a case by case basis. There is emotional, physiological, and philosophical weight to almost every question regarding the ethics of surrogacy. Making it, even more, overwhelming for hopeful parents that find themselves caught in the mix.

We don’t begin to assume we have all of the answers, and most definitely don’t have them for any one person in specific. It’s important that any prospective parent, couple, or even surrogate mother should weigh these discussions carefully. Especially when making their decision to take part in such an incredible journey.

Ethics and Surrogacy: How Should Surrogacy Be Performed

Ethics and Surrogacy- Bad or Good

There are two types of surrogacy: Gestational and Traditional.

Gestational Surrogacy

Gestational surrogacy is when both sets of genetic materials (egg and sperm) come from someone who is not the surrogate mother. Both eggs and sperm are supplied by intended parents or donated by a third party. Thus giving the surrogate mother no genetic link to the child.

Laws differ as to whether or not intended parents must supply at least one of the genetic materials to be used. Usually, at least one isn’t has a direct genetic link to the surrogate born child. Gestational surrogacy is generally carried out via IVF (in vitro fertilization). Here the materials are combined in a lab setting and the resulting embryo is then implanted into the surrogate mother.

Traditional Surrogacy

Traditional surrogacy entails the surrogate mother supplying the egg for the child. In some countries, traditional surrogacy is outlawed, or outmoded, because of the inherent difficulty in lawfully deciding parentage. Traditional surrogacy is performed via IUI (Intrauterine Insemination).

The philosophical discussion surrounding which method of surrogacy has been sharply discussed since the advent of advanced IVF techniques. One of the biggest criticisms surrounding traditional surrogacy is the question of parentage. Following highly publicized custody cases arising from traditional surrogacy parentage, many states and countries have even come to ban the practice of traditional surrogacies.

Even in places where traditional surrogacies are still legally available, it’s always adamantly suggested that gestational surrogates, and pre-birth orders, are used.

Ethics and Surrogacy: Should Surrogates Be Paid

Ethics and Surrogacy- Payment

Ethics surrounding compensated and altruistic surrogacy discussions are on the rise. Compensated, or commercial surrogacy are agreements where the surrogate mother is entitled to remuneration, or payment for her time and gestation. In altruistic agreements, the surrogate forgoes any time of compensatory payments but is occasionally allowed to recoup certain expenses.

This debate centres highly on whether or not being a surrogate is a type of labor. While gestating a child surely comes with its own physical and emotional demand, much debate as to whether or not surrogacy should be classier as a type of paid work.

Altruistic Surrogacy Agreements

In most altruistic surrogacy agreements, the surrogate mother is able to recoup medical expenses and other types of necessary expenditure. But it rarely comes out of the process with any discernible profit. People who are in favor of altruistic surrogacy generally counter that women should choose to gestate a child out of the goodness of their hearts, as opposed to the drive of an empty wallet. Many also contend that in paying women to become surrogates, the process will inadvertently prey on at-risk women or people from poorer classes.

Compensated Surrogacy Agreements

While in contrast, others acknowledge that being pregnant is hard work, and accordingly, women should be paid for their time. Gestating a child is incredibly taxing. It’s a 24/7 career for nine months straight. Most surrogates sign contracts that bound them to certain moral standards. Like abstaining from alcohol and cigarettes, or eating particular types of food and getting regular exercise. Not much different from the constraints that highly paid athletes are required to uphold. Being a surrogate is also incredibly emotionally taxing, because of all the steps involving in a surrogacy program. Most agencies will require their surrogates to attend multiple doctor’s appointments and checkups, as well as follow strict guidelines on activity- which can make it difficult to hold down a day job.

Ethics and Surrogacy: Should Babies Be Commodified

Baby from Surrogacy

In discussion gestational surrogacy vs. altruistic, you’re bound to come across the discussion of the commodification of the human body. Whether it’s contended that the woman’s womb or the child itself is being commodified, scholars and humanitarians alike discuss whether or not this is an ethical practice.

To pay a surrogate for her time, hard work, and all of the consideration that she puts into carrying an unborn child seems appropriate. Especially if you classify surrogacy as “work”. However, many people are concerned that allowing surrogates to come away from an agreement with some manner of profit for their time creates a dangerous precedent. The commodification of human life.

While others contend that people from all over the world spend millions of dollars and an untold amount of time and heartache on assisted reproductive technologies and treatments. Doctor’s, nurses, lab technicians. Each and every person that couples work with along the journey of creating a family all receive compensation for the work they do. This is the argument denying that surrogacy commodifies human life. As it may commodify it, it’s no different in the way that many countries commodify healthcare or other types of reproductive treatments.

While it is important to be hyper-aware of the possibility that exploitation can occur, it’s unlikely that paying a woman for her time and service is going to be the root cause of that exploitation and commodification.

Ethics and Surrogacy: What it Means to You

Couple Talking about Surrogacy

While it’s unlikely that surrogacy will ever be totally free of controversy, it’s important to understand what finding a surrogate means to you. As we know, and there is no argument here, is that surrogacy exists. There are ways that it can be performed with the absolute best interests of everyone involved. The surrogate, your family, and your future child. Laws exist to ensure proper practices and just care for everyone. Studies have even shown that children born via surrogacy are no more likely to experience mental distress or behavioural problems than their natural-born peers.

If you’ve chosen to have a surrogate, make sure that you are choosy when it comes to the agency you use. Ensure that your agency provides proper treatment and care for their surrogates. Investigate their selection practices and any testing that is required for the surrogate. Meet your surrogate mother.

Know what to say, or how to talk to people about your choices. Remember that you are acting in the best interest of your family. Being a parent comes with a multitude of difficult choices and tribulations, choosing a surrogate is sure to be just one of many.


If you are interested in reading more articles check the ilaya Blog and the next posts talking about: The Very Important Difference Between Sterility, Infertility, and Subfertility.