Bioethics Blogs

Reasonable Regulation of Surrogate Motherhood

This month France’s highest court granted legal recognition to children born to surrogates. Previously, surrogate children were deprived of any legal connection to their parents, or any civil status in France. They could not get ID cards or passports, or register for state health care or other benefits.

France’s policy was challenged in a case involving a couple that hired a surrogate in California (where surrogacy is legal), who gave birth to twins. In December 2008 the French high court issued a decision that upheld a lower court’s refusal to allow French birth certificates to be issued to the children, saying that French citizens cannot go abroad to circumvent French surrogacy laws. The new decision of the high court upholds the ban against surrogacy, but allows children born abroad through this practice to be legally tied to their parents and granted birth certificates and immediate means to prove their French citizenship.

The reaction of most people to the high court’s decision was, “What?! Children born to surrogate mothers were once denied civil status and state benefits in France? How does that make sense?” I think that is ultimately the right reaction, but the situation is a little more complicated than it first appears. It raises two different questions. First, should surrogate motherhood be illegal, and second, what provisions may a state take to ensure that the law is obeyed?

Interestingly, France bans not only commercial surrogate motherhood, but all surrogate motherhood, even when no money is exchanged. By contrast, in Canada, the U.K., and New York, to take just a few examples, only commercial surrogate motherhood is prohibited.

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.