Suzanna Scorsone, Royal Commission member for five years, says, "Surrogacy for hire would set a dangerous precedent because it would, in effect, legalize a form of child trafficking." Photo by Michael Swan

Assisted reproduction, surrogacy laws challenged

  • June 6, 2018

A private member’s bill that would decriminalize the purchase of sperm, eggs and rent-a-womb surrogacy would open the door to exploitation of poor women and legalize a form of child trafficking, according to a member of the 1990s Royal Commission on New Reproductive Technologies.

“Canada, in a long and consistent tradition and approach, views certain things as being too deeply human and too deeply involved with human identity, dignity, welfare, safety, responsibility and relationship to commercialize and commodify,” said Suzanne Scorsone, who served five years on the Royal Commission.

Montreal Liberal backbencher Anthony Housefather introduced proposed changes to the 2004 Assisted Human Reproduction Act in Parliament on May 29. He wants to end the ban on paying for services like surrogacy, and egg and sperm donation.

“I think most Canadians would agree that this shouldn’t be subject to criminal sanctions,” Housefather told the Globe and Mail.

Scorsone disagrees. She points to five years of research that included scientific, legal and ethical studies, as well as hearings from coast to coast, all of which suggest Housefather is wrong.

“When the Royal Commission reported and when the Assisted Human Reproduction Act was first passed, it was based on a consensus of people from across the spectrum,” said Scorsone, who is now director of research for the Archdiocese of Toronto.

Canada has some of the most restrictive rules in the world around assisted reproduction, though European countries including France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Bulgaria ban all forms of surrogacy. The United Kingdom, Ireland, Denmark and Belgium are like Canada in that they allow surrogacy, but disallow payment for surrogacy. In the U.S. commercial surrogacy is allowed in some states and the process, including legal and administrative fees,  runs in excess of $100,000.

Surrogacy for hire would set a dangerous precedent because it would, in effect, legalize a form of child trafficking, said Scorsone.

“In most jurisdictions the woman who gives birth to the child is deemed to be, in law, the mother of that child, whether she is biologically the progenitor of that child or not,” Scorsone said. “Look at the legal precedent — aside from what happens to the individuals involved or not — a precedent is set in the severing of the parental bond for pay. This is by definition child trafficking. 

“After the child is born there is a birth certificate and the birth certificate has her name on it. She then severs that on a commercial contract with agents and lawyers and all the rest of it. ... It sets a precedent in law that the mother-child bond can be severed for payment. That’s something that I don’t think Canadian society wants to see, ever.”

The potential for economic exploitation of poor women includes surrogacy and the commercial harvesting of human eggs, said Scorsone.

“It’s the poor who do it, because they need the money. Very quickly it becomes exploitative.”

Scorsone envisions a future generation who will search their genetic history and discover their parents were in it for the money.

“People may say biological bonds don’t matter. Yeah, they do. Psychologically they matter and they are also part of your genetic history.”

Scorsone recognizes there has been pressure to allow commercialization since before the act came into effect in 2007. She also acknowledges not all couples struggling to conceive will be able to try every possible avenue.

“We need to feel enormous sympathy and supportive compassion for those who want to have children and are finding it difficult or impossible,” she said. “There are many wishes and aspirations we may have in life. Some of them can be fulfilled and some, as life turns out, can’t…. The problem is that even a good end can’t be served by going about it — and by demanding that the country, the entire society, organize itself in law to legitimate going about it — in ways which cause exploitation, risk damage to others and which undercut the reality of what we are seeking.”

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