Ethical issues in gestational surrogacy

Theor Med Bioeth. 2000;21(2):153-69. doi: 10.1023/a:1009956218800.


The introduction of contraceptive technologies has resulted in the separation of sex and procreation. The introduction of new reproductive technologies (mainly IVF and embryo transfer) has led not only to the separation of procreation and sex, but also to the redefinition of the terms mother and family. For the purpose of this essay, I will distinguish between: 1. the genetic mother--the donor of the egg; 2. the gestational mother--she who bears and gives birth to the baby; 3. the social mother--the woman who raises the child. This essay will deal only with the form of gestational surrogacy in which the genetic parents intend to be the social parents, and the surrogate mother has no genetic relationship to the child she bears and delivers. I will raise questions regarding medical ethical aspects of surrogacy and the obligation(s) of the physician(s) to the parties involved. I will argue that the gestational surrogate is "a womb to rent," that there is great similarity between gestational commercial surrogacy and organ transplant marketing. Furthermore, despite claims to freedom of choice and free marketing, I will claim that gestational surrogacy is a form of prostitution and slavery, exploitation of the poor and needy by those who are better off. The right to be a parent, although not constitutional, is intuitive and deeply rooted. However, the issue remains whether this right overrules all other rights, and at what price to the parties involved. I will finally raise the following provocative question to society: In the interim period between today's limited technology and tomorrow's extra-corporeal gestation technology (ectogenesis), should utilizing females in PVS (persistent vehetative state) for gestational surrogacy be socially acceptable/permissible--provided they have left permission in writing?

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Depersonalization
  • Economics
  • Ethics, Medical*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Living Donors
  • Persistent Vegetative State
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Care
  • Surrogate Mothers* / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Surrogate Mothers* / psychology