Bishops back legislation call on surrogacy
by Jonathan Petre
CATHOLIC BISHOPS are enthusiastically behind a call by Baroness Warnock, author of the controversial report on human embryology, for urgent legislation to prevent commercial exploitation of surrogate motherhood, a Church spokesman said this week.
The issue of surrogacy where one woman agrees to conceive a child for a couple unable to have their own children — came dramatically to the fore last week with the birth on Friday of a baby girl to Britain's first surrogate mother. Mrs Kim Cotton, aged 28, and married with two children, accepted an offer of £6,500 to conceive and carry the child.
According to the surrogacy agreement, the child should be handed over to the couple who paid more than £13,000. The unidentified couple had tried to have a child for 13 years before the husband donated semen for the artificial insemination of Mrs Cotton.
The baby, however, has remained in care while a complex legal battle is fought out by the local council. Mr Norman Fowler, Secretary of State for Social Services, now seems resolved to introduce Government legislation on this matter as soon as possible.
Mr Nicholas Coote, assistant general secretary of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, told the Catholic Herald this week that the bishops were against surrogacy of all kinds, both commercial and noncommercial.
But he said that they recognised the difficulties of legislating against noncommercial surrogacy. The Warnock report, which dealt with the issue in depth, concluded that it was almost impossible to outlaw private agreements in this area.
The Church is against surrogate motherhood on two grounds, he said. First, it undermines the marriage relationship by introducing a third party, the surrogate mother.
Second, it objects to the way the process makes use of another person, the surrogate mother, as a means to an end.
"The commercial side of surrogate motherhood should be fairly easy to deal with in law," Mr Coote said. "There will always be wealthy people who will get around the law, but byand-large it should be possible to prevent commercial contracts being entered into."
Speaking at a press conference this week, Lady Warnock said that legislation to prevent "renta-womb" schemes should carry a "real deterrent".
It should be a criminal offence to organise surrogate motherhood agencies, commercial or not, she said. And it should be an offence for a gynaecologist to arrange a surrogate pregnancy, either by offering a surrogate mother or by carrying out artificial insemination, and for a newspaper or other form of media to carry an advertisement seeking potential mothers.
The DHSS has ruled out a suggestion that legislation dealing with surrogacy could be introduced with Mr Enoch Powell's Private Members Bill on embryo experimentation which has its second reading on February 15. Mr Fowler has decided that there is a risk that a private bill • might not get through Parliament.
Mr Powell's Bill, which has the support of the bishops, is designed to prevent experiments being carried out on human embryos fertilised in test tubes. A majority on the Warnock Committee recommended that experiments should be permissible up to 14 days.