Bioethics Blogs

Manufacturing Consensus on Commercial Surrogacy in Canada

Dave Snow questions the supposed public consensus behind Canada’s commercial surrogacy prohibition.

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From Quebec’s decision to eliminate funding for in vitro fertilization to debates over egg freezing to concerns about “three-parent babies,” rarely a day passes in Canada without assisted human reproduction making the news. It is therefore curious that, in the face of social and technological change, little noise has been made about one growing aspect of assisted human reproduction: surrogacy.

In Canada, surrogacy is legal, but it must be unpaid (or “altruistic”). Section 6 of the Assisted Human Reproduction Act prohibits commercial surrogacy, with punishments for commissioning parents and/or brokers reaching as much as $500,000 and ten years in prison. While reimbursement of surrogacy-related expenditures is permissible under section 12 (although the state of the law is unclear), the legislation was deliberately crafted to ensure that surrogates cannot profit from their gestational services.

Tom Thomson, Autumn Foliage (1915)

Why a criminal ban on commercial surrogacy? During Canadian legislative debates from 2001-2004, a sharp (some might say artificial) line was drawn between “altruistic” and “commercial” surrogacy, with the latter singled out as an exploitative and commodifying activity: exploitative because the lure of money induces poorer women to undertake risky activity for which they are beholden to wealthier commissioning parents, and commodifying because it treats women’s labour as a commodity and children as objects to be bought and sold. Although there was limited evidence to confirm or deny these claims, the arguments stuck. Prohibiting payment was seen as the best way to limit (if not eliminate) these possibilities.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.