Should we allow the commercialization of surrogacy?
It’s illegal to pay someone to go through a pregnancy for you. But Bill 404, a new private member’s bill, would decriminalize payment for surrogacy, and the selling and buying of human sperm and eggs.
MP Anthony Housefather, chair of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, argued the current prohibitions on payment are "paternalistic, misguided and unnecessary."
The prime minister welcomed the discussion, and one national columnist said this was an attempt by a liberal to reverse an illiberal mistake (the current legislation was passed by a Liberal government in 2004).
Why is there a ban in the first place?
We can find a good explanation in Building Families, a 2001 health committee report to the House of Commons:
It is contrary to our thinking to treat human beings or human material as commodities that can be regarded in terms of their economic value rather than their intrinsic worth. In particular, we feel that children can never be objects to be acquired or exchanged. Women and men need to know that their bodies and their reproductive material are not for sale or barter. The committee does not support any elements of trading, exchange, buying or selling of human reproductive material.
MPs who wrote the committee report rejected the commodification and commercialization of assisted human reproduction out of respect for the dignity of the human person.
The ban on the commercialization of surrogacy was affirmed by all the political parties involved. Subsequent legislation banned payment for surrogacy, sperm and eggs and led to the Assisted Human Reproduction Act (2004) we have today. It was forged in a rather unique process where the government of the day tabled draft legislation inviting the members of the Standing Committee on Health to hold wide-ranging hearings and debate the proposal.
It was in effect a discussion document the Liberals on the committee were not duty bound to support, nor the opposition to oppose (in those days the Canadian Alliance, the Bloc and the NDP).
The consensus was that the respect for human life should prevail over any measure that would commodify or commercialize human life. Even in their minority reports, the opposition parties all affirmed the ban on commercialization.
Why then would some today call the legislation illiberal?
The term liberal democracy refers to a system that ensures politics is not dominated by one religion or ideology. Such a nonsectarian state leaves room for the diverse belief systems and ideologies adhered to by those living in the jurisdiction. It’s often described as free and democratic, meaning all are free to express their views and participate.
The challenge is liberalism can also refer to an ideology rather than a political process of managing diversity.
If you believe our bodies are our own to do with as we please, and that human dignity is consistent with expressions of human autonomy regulated only by the free choice of the individual, then the choice by some to commercialize pregnancy is arguably consistent with human dignity and autonomy.
The same argument is used for prostitution – if undertaken freely (so the argument goes), it does not violate our intrinsic worth, but rather is an expression of it.
In this view it is illiberal to restrict the expression of autonomy – wrong to criminalize prostitution or commercial surrogacy.
Now, it could be politicians affirming liberalism as an ideology are able to either outvote or convince enough other MPs to vote with them and amend the law. The process would be liberal and also affirm the ideologically liberal position.
However, it would also demonstrate how much Canada has changed in a relatively short time, and the strides ideological liberalism has made.
Fourteen years ago there was a consensus that commercialization undermined the intrinsic worth of the human person and that it harms us all. It undermines our dignity when people are reduced to commodities and human reproduction commercialized. This debate drives us back to our basic understanding about the nature of human life, and what dignity and respect for human life entails.
Leading up to the passage of the bill in 2004, the EFC was a strong advocate for the current prohibitions and appeared multiple times in committee hearings. It is a debate in which none of use can afford to be silent, and an opportunity to engage in a conversation about what it means to be human and the nature of human dignity, and bring the wisdom of our faith to the table of public dialogue.
Bruce J. Clemenger is President of The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. Please pray for our work and support us at www.TheEFC.ca/Donate or toll-free 1-866-302-3362.