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Australian Bishops Urge Upholding of Human Dignity at Surrogacy Inquiry

Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
26 Feb 2016

Bishop Peter Comensoli is the Bishops' delegate on life issues

The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference has told a federal government inquiry into surrogacy that both commercial and altruistic surrogacy offends human dignity and that this cannot be overcome by regulation.

The surrogacy inquiry was announced on 2 December 2015, with the House of Representatives' Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs asked to inquire into and report on the regulatory and legislative aspects of international and domestic surrogacy arrangements. 

Commercial surrogacy is not permitted in Australia, with the only form of surrogacy being that done for altruistic purposes.  This means that intending parents cannot make payments to a surrogate mother outside of reimbursement of expenses.

Around 250 applications for citizenship for children born from surrogate mothers overseas are made each year.  Developing countries are popular destinations for those seeking surrogacy-for-payment arrangements, because the costs are much lower than those in countries like the United States (where commercial surrogacy is also legal.)  This has led to a situation where women and children have been exploited, the most infamous example being the case of Baby Gammy, who was left behind in Thailand by his biological parents after he was diagnosed with Down Syndrome.

It is consistently argued that these risks are reason for legalising commercial surrogacy in Australia.

The Bishops' Conference urged parliament to consider the rights of children as being paramount

The parliamentary committee was tasked with considering issues including existing legislation, medical and welfare aspects for all parties involved, consent, exploitation, payments, and the rights of children.   Given the prevalence of overseas surrogacy arrangement, matters of immigration and citizenship matters were also considered.

The Bishops' delegate for life issues, Bishop Peter Comensoli, began the submission on behalf of the Bishops' Commission for Family, Youth and Life (which is headed by Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP) by acknowledging the pain and sadness of infertility, but warned that turning to surrogacy was transferring the sadness from the infertile couple to the surrogate mother.

The submission said that surrogacy undermines human dignity because it "dehumanises one of the most profoundly human and personal parts of life", and cited a European Parliament human rights report which said that surrogacy undermines the human dignity of the woman by using her body as a commodity.

The submission warned that surrogacy arrangements dehumanises the conception and birth of children

The submission argued that the rights of the child are also undermined, because it denies them the right to be conceived, carried, born and brought up by his or her genetic parents.  The submission said that surrogacy leads to the exploitation of surrogate mothers, with either financial or emotional pressures possibly impacting their decision to carry a child.

The submission also spoke about the commodification of children, warning that the legalisation of commercial surrogacy would allow the introduction of "market values" into the loving role that women have in carrying and giving birth to a child.

Given these impacts on human dignity and the rights of women and children, the submission concluded by saying that it would be intolerable to suggest that the legalisation of commercial surrogacy in Australia was a form of "harm minimisation."

The committee's report is expected to be tabled in parliament in June.

The full text of the Bishops' Commission for Family, Youth and Life submission can be found here: https://www.catholic.org.au/acbc-media/downloads/public-policy/papers/1793-10-february-2016-inquiry-into-surrogacy/file