We Ignore Ethical Problems With Surrogacy at Our Own Peril | Opinion

The recent announcement by popular television newsman Anderson Cooper that he will be co-parenting via surrogacy a baby boy, Wyatt, elicited nearly universal congratulations. What could be happier than the birth of a child?

The happy announcement, however, blurs some difficult questions about a largely unregulated surrogacy industry that critics say puts women's health at risk and leads to the commodification of children. A plethora of ethical questions accompanies the birth of the child. But since most Americans seem to view both in vitro fertilization (IVF) and surrogacy as unalloyed goods, those questions are often not discussed—or even raised.

But they are important questions. We as a society ought to feel comfortable candidly discussing them.

First, surrogacy usually involves mystery. Who is the child's father? Who is the child's mother? Even if we know who provided the sperm, we still do not know who provided the other half of a surrogate child's genetic make-up: the surrogate who carried him or another woman who was paid to deliver eggs? And that's "eggs," in the plural, because surrogacy requires IVF—which, in turn, requires the manipulation of multiple eggs and sperm until a sufficient number of embryos are produced so as to increase the likelihood of uterine implantation.

Women generally produce only one egg at a time, once a month. But this biological reality makes for an inefficient supply chain-to-market process, so industry leaders tend to rely upon hyper-ovulation, in which a woman's reproductive system is prodded into producing upwards of a dozen eggs at one time. This is a painful and sometimes dangerous process. Jennifer Lahl, former nurse and outspoken critic of surrogacy, says the documented risks include loss of fertility, ovarian torsion, blood clots, kidney disease, premature menopause, ovarian cysts, chronic pelvic pain, stroke, reproductive cancers and, in some cases, death.

The carriers, the surrogates, are also women who need the money. After all, pregnancy is a lengthy, cumbersome, tiring and sometimes dangerous process. This past January, a California woman named Michelle Reaves died giving birth to a child she was surrogating.

The surrogacy industry relies on women putting their lives and health at risk for a high-stakes, high-priced commercial transaction. It can cost somewhere between $25,000 and $100,000. Who can afford this? Only the wealthy.

Surrogate birth
Surrogate birth ISHARA S. KODIKARA/AFP via Getty Images

Furthermore, many children born of surrogacy are created deliberately to live without a mother. And who, exactly, is the mother? The woman whose eggs were bought? The woman who carried the child to term? Writer Joyce Carol Oats opined recently that surrogacy is akin to motherly erasure. In surrogacy, the mother is only relevant for a short time, rather than for a lifetime.

Children born of surrogacy will, at some point, likely long to know their biological mothers. But the law is not on their side. Donation records tend to be kept hidden from them. They are sometimes left with a lifetime of wonder and frustration. What's more, children conceived and born this way do not know their medical history—their propensity for heart disease, cancer, or multiple sclerosis. These are real, tangible costs.

So, as the world continues to celebrate surrogacy, we ought to pause for a moment and at least consider a fuller view of the entire story.

Austin Ruse is president of C-Fam, a United Nations-focused research institute. He is the author of Fake Science: Exposing the Left's Skewed Statistics, Fuzzy Facts, and Dodgy Data. His next book, The Catholic Case for Trump, will be published by Regnery in August.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.