A group of lawyers, doctors, psychologists, and others from five continents gathered in Casablanca, Morocco, on March 3 to call for the repeal of all laws allowing or tolerating surrogacy around the world.
The group released a signed document titled “International Declaration for the Universal Abolition of Surrogacy,” which aims to raise global awareness of what the group considers to be a practice that violates human dignity. Along with the statement, a proposal for an international convention was made available to all organizations and governments that wish to ratify it.
“We call on [countries] to condemn surrogacy in all modalities and kinds, whether remunerated or not, and the implementation of measures to fight such practice,” the signatories, who represent more than 70 countries, wrote in their “Casablanca Declaration,” at the same time maintaining to be “aware of the suffering of people who may not conceive” and of the “appeal of reproductive technologies.”
Surrogacy is when a woman — usually referred to as a “surrogate mother” — carries in her womb one or more children on behalf of intended parents to whom the child will be given after birth. The contract is sealed directly between the surrogate mother and the parents or through one or more third parties.
To date, no binding text has been adopted on the issue at the international level. Although the practice is currently authorized in a limited number of countries (some American states, Canada, the U.K., Ukraine, Russia, the Netherlands, Denmark, Greece, and India), many countries maintain a legal vagueness on the issue, especially concerning the recognition of children born by surrogate motherhood abroad. It has the effect of considerably expanding the boundaries of the practice.
Aude Mirkovic, senior lecturer in law and one of the main organizers and coordinator of the initiative, told CNA that one major issue facing countries where surrogacy is still illegal is that foreign commercial companies are given an avenue to come and recruit potential clients.
“We are particularly aware of this issue in France as we are experiencing very aggressive canvassing by mainly Ukrainian and American companies that come to sell us their services with impunity; we just let it happen,” she said.
“The result is that women are being used, exploited to give birth to children for clients in various countries, and these children are being ordered and delivered in execution of a contract,” Mirkovic said.
“Not to mention the damage to filiation, the separation from the woman who bore them, which deliberately exposes them to the wound of abandonment,” she continued.
The main interest of this collective statement, according to Mirkovic, is to draw attention to the issue at the international level in order to prompt a global response. Hence the geographical diversity of the experts who took part in the initiative and the participation, as an observer, of Suzanne Aho, member of the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child, at last week’s conference.
“We wish to arouse the interest of the greatest number of [countries] and international organizations and in this sense, our approach is political,” Mirkovic said, pointing out that the signatories made the deliberate choice not to mention the organizations to which they belong in order to gather people of various sensibilities, including simple scholars with no particular political or ideological affiliation.
It is in this same frame of mind that the drafters of the declaration, and the accompanying outline convention, chose to keep both texts brief.
Indeed, the recommendations contained in the convention proposal are limited to five: “prohibit the practice of surrogacy on their territory; deny any legal validity to contracts bearing the undertaking from a woman to carry and deliver a child; punish the individuals and corporations acting as intermediaries between the surrogacy mothers and the orderers; prosecute the individuals entering into surrogacy on their territory; prosecute their nationals entering into surrogacy outside their territory.”
“Anybody can take hold of the text. It is enough to agree with its content to appropriate it and present it to one’s government or elected representative. Our hope is that political structures will take hold of it,” Mirkovic continued.
The group envisions initially a presentation of the text before bodies such as the Council of Europe or the United Nations and that it could lead to multilateral agreements between countries.
“We followed the model of learned societies to put our expertise at the service of a cause and make concrete proposals,” Mirkovic said. “It is easier to get governments to sign up to something that already exists than to have to think up a political project from scratch, and this can create a ripple effect.”
“The feeling that unites us all is the determination not to stand by and watch this human commodification, this modern slavery, develop,” she concluded. “Slavery would never have been abolished if our ancestors had been as individualistic as the present generation is. But human dignity must be defended at all times and in all places, and everyone has a part to play.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that “techniques that entail the dissociation of husband and wife, by the intrusion of a person other than the couple (donation of sperm or ovum, surrogate uterus), are gravely immoral” (No. 2376).
Pope Francis spoke against surrogacy in a June 2022 meeting with members of the Federation of Catholic Family Associations in Europe.
“The dignity of men and women is … threatened,” he said, “by the inhumane and increasingly widespread practice of ‘womb renting,’ in which women, almost always poor, are exploited, and children are treated as commodities.”