Surrogacy: what the Biblical precedent tells us

Surrogacy: what the Biblical precedent tells us

Anne Lastman

Much has been written about surrogacy and the story of Baby Gammy who was left behind with his birth mother in Thailand because of disability, whilst his healthy sister was taken by adoptive parents back to Australia.

Surrogacy has come to the forefront of media because of this particular story, however, surrogacy is not something new, and indeed we have biblical precedents with Abraham, Sarai, Hagar and other childless couples.

Since Sarah had yet to bear Abraham a child and heir, her idea to fulfil the promise that God had made to her husband, to be the father of many nations, was to offer her Egyptian slave girl, Hagar, to Abraham, so that they could have a child by her and then the child would be raised by Sarah and Abraham as their own. Abraham consented to this arrangement taking Hagar as wife when he was in his late 85th year of age (they made them strong in those days).

While strange to our modern way of thinking, customs of that time dictated that no man should die without an heir and ways were devised to remedy this perceived shame. While Hagar was acknowledged as the birth mother, the child conceived would belong to Sarah and Abraham and if Sarah (the legal wife) and Abraham did not have their own child then this child (Ishmael) would be heir.

Genesis 16:7-16 describes the naming of Ishmael, and Yahweh's promise to Hagar concerning Ishmael and his descendants. This occurred at the well of Beer-lahai-roi, located in the desert region between Abraham's settlement and Shur.

Hagar fled there after Sarai dealt harshly with her for showing contempt for her mistress after Hagar became pregnant. Here, at the well, Hagar encountered an angel of Hashem who instructed her to return and be submissive to Sarah so that she could give birth to the child there.

The blessing that this child's father was promised was that his (Abraham's) descendants would be as numerous as the dust of the earth or even as numerous as the stars of heaven. However, the fulfilment of the promise would be by a son of Sarah; yet God would make of this child, Ishmael, also a great nation, because he was of the seed of Abraham. When Ishmael was born, Abraham was 86 years old. Other Biblical references to surrogacy include Gen 16:1-16; Gen 30:1-8; Gen 9:13; Deut: 25: 5-6.

So surrogacy has a known history of at least five thousand years.

What makes surrogacy attractive to modern thought is the fact that movie stars and high profile figures have made it legitimate. The "gestational carrier" (intended to remove the idea of mother) words of Nicole Kidman for the surrogate mother of her baby girl, has brought into modern language and ideas the reality that it is possible to "buy" or even "create" a child to satisfy the desires of the parents and thus make a commodity of the human being.

In an era when 50,000,000 abortions per year occur with only a miniscule availability of babies for adoptions, it becomes possible to see why the "manufacture" of babies to satisfy the wants of those who can afford them is a response.

When we speak against surrogacy it is often thought that we are ungrateful, because in these cases a child is wanted, is not aborted, and so it should be a win win situation for all. But this misses the point.

The point and the problem with surrogacy is that a child is "created" to satisfy the "want" of those desiring a baby in any way possible. It, in fact, becomes a race to satisfy want through a commercial transaction, most often with surrogate mothers found and engaged because of their need for financial reward.

As mentioned in my past writings, I am reminded of Professor Salvatore Mancuso of the Catholic University of Rome who said that beginning from the fifth week gestation an infinite number of messages pass from baby to mother through chemical substances. This dialogue between mother and child alerts the mother to the new creation she is carrying and helps her to adapt psychologically and physically to the reality that she is carrying a new creation.

Further, the child (embryo) sheds and sends stem cells which colonise the mother's brain stem, attach to it and remain with her for the rest of her life. Furthermore, these cells have receptors for neuro transmitters which assist messages to pass, and to which the mother's nervous system is able to comprehend and respond.

The baby's cells pass to the mother in large quantities at birth whether by natural birth or caesarian and have been found in the mother 30 years after the child's birth. It is as though thoughts pass from mother to child even years after birth.

When we consider the intimacy of conception and the intricacy and dialogue which goes on from the moment of conception till birth, then employing a surrogate creates a grave injustice both for mother and child because these two are linked through invisible dialogue for the rest of their lives so that giving a child to another causes an innate sense of loneliness for both.

When compared to adoption, which surrogacy often is, there is a world of difference. Adoption always places the welfare of an already born child first, and while this may not always appear to be so to the child and later adult, adoption has said "yes" to life and "no" to death (abortion).

Surrogacy on the other hand had said "yes" to life but conditionally. The conditions are financial, and the commodification of a woman and child without taking into account a woman's response, dialogue and relationship with the new guest she is carrying.

To return to the Biblical precedent of surrogacy, indeed the fulfilment of the promise of a child for Abraham, the long term ramifications were not good. Ishmael, the innocent child and not child of the covenant did grow to become the "father" of many nations as foretold by God but the suffering which ensued between the descendants of Ishmael and those of Isaac (family feud) has endured for many millennia. Sarah's desire for a child at any cost, using any means, has cost her people, and the children of both her children, very dearly.

Surrogacy, while seemingly good, ultimately has pain inscribed upon it.

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