The guidelines published earlier this week by Minister for Justice Alan Shatter (pictured) on surrogacy utterly failed to flag the fact that the whole area is an ethical minefield.
Surrogacy is problematic, involving as it does gestating one woman’s baby in another woman’s womb. There are some very serious concerns connected with it, but Minister Shatter's document alluded to none of these, preferring to treat the issue as a series of legal hurdles to be overcome.
Granted, the guidelines were designed to outline the current legal position in Ireland, which regards only the birth mother as the legal mother, and does not recognise surrogacy arrangements. But they make no effort to explain the reasoning behind this stance.
But there are a number of very good reasons not just not to recognise surrogacy, but to ban it outright.
For a start, the practice is inherently exploitative. It typically involves women from the wealthy West essentially renting the wombs of poor, vulnerable women.
Secondly, and as countries like Austria, Germany and Italy point out, permitted surrogacy ‘splits’ motherhood, between a birth mother (that is a surrogate mother), a genetic mother (that is the egg donor), and even a social mother (that is someone who is neither the surrogate mother nor the genetic mother but who raises the child).
They point out that this can easily create identity problems for the child.
But medical ethicists such as UCC's Dr Deirdre Madden seems to think that because surrogacy will happen in any case, our task is simply to facilitate legally speaking. In this way, the very serious objections to surrogacy are ignored, and the issue is presented as being a purely legal, regulatory one.
But the “it will happen anyway” argument could apply to many laws and is ultimately an argument against restraining almost any form of human behaviour.
(You can hear Dr Madden make this very argument in a discussion on this issue with David Quinn on the Today with Pat Kenny programme here.)
It is to be hoped that before the Government decide to legislate on this sensitive matter that this issue is debated far more thoroughly than it has been to date.