Last spring, Liberal MP Anthony Housefather introduced a Private Member’s Bill to amend the Assisted Human Reproduction Act. While the House of Commons is unlikely to have time to pass the bill during this session of Parliament, the adults in the room should take time to discuss it.
In essence, the bill proposes amendments that would permit payments for surrogacy services, for arranging surrogacy services, advertising of said services and paying for sperm and eggs. These amendments are a significant departure from the original legislation which made all this illegal in Canada.
Canadian Societal impact
The bill takes great care to protect women, girls under the age of 18 or those without the capacity to give proper consent, from exploitation. It also addresses coercion, although to paraphrase a former Liberal MP, if the government isn’t in the bedrooms of the nation, how would it know that there is no coercion?
Whether in the House of Commons, a lawyer’s office or a clinic, certainly the adults involved do seem to have been considered.
But how does it affect the rest of us? Though we aren’t in the bedrooms or any of the other rooms, this is still our society. We can question how changes of this magnitude will impact babies, and us.
Society will be affected by Bill C 404, for better or for worse.
Surrogate motherhood and the philosophy of personalism
David Brooks, American author and commentator, wrote in the New York Times: “Every human encounter is a meeting of equals.” He was discussing the little-known philosophy of personalism.
Personalism defined by Brooks is “a philosophic tendency built on the infinite uniqueness and depth of each person.” Brooks pointed to Margarita Mooney from Princeton Theological Seminary, who was still a graduate student in sociology when she too fell upon this philosophy. Her search for a means to bring about social equality where liberal-individualism and authoritarian-collectivism had failed led her to study personalism.
Both are now proponents of this lens from which they analyze systems and institutions. Both see the great flaws and failures found in individualist-capitalism and collectivist-socialism, as well as in many other isms. They are in the company of Martin Luther King, Edith Stein, Peter Maurin, Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen and Karl Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II), who all championed personalism.
Mooney explains: “Personalism…argues that a person can never be simply the means to another end, but each person must be treated as an end in and of himself.
Liberal individualism too often conflates utility and value, but personalism also rejects the utilitarian idea that a person’s utility is the same as his value.” Personalism also stands in stark contrast to collectivism, which is practiced usually in communist countries where the group is more important than the individual. It too assesses that predominately in material terms.
Personalism, on the other hand, recognizes the intersection of body and spirit, which is rooted in the actual human experience. And personalism is useful in analyzing the business of baby-making.
Surrogacy and the market for birth
Getting back to the legal proposal to be considered by Parliament and all of us, it is a good time to ask: “Should we pay people to make babies?”
It’s not that these babies wouldn’t be fully human with a touch of the divine, it’s that financial compensation for creating a child entrenches a utilitarian view of life and people. Individual freedom to put a price on making a baby says what about the inestimable value of a human being, the surrogate, the donors and of course, the baby?
If we construct a people-market to buy and sell the ingredients for the make-a-baby-puzzle, how long will it be before we buy and sell other pieces of the human puzzle? Will the sum of our body parts be greater than our whole on the people-parts market, when society deals with other moral medical quandaries like assisted suicide and organ donation?
Before Canada decriminalizes buying and selling what makes a baby, we should pause, consider, even stop.
We are after all, the adults in the room.
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