Making babies

“Consequently, unless we are willing that the responsibility of procreating life should be left to the arbitrary decision of men, we must accept that there are certain limits, beyond which it is wrong to go, to the power of man over his own body and its natural functions—limits, let it be said, which no one, whether as a private individual or as a public authority, can lawfully exceed.” ( Humanae Vitae , No. 17)

“Unable to have a baby of her own, Amy Kehoe became her own general contractor to manufacture one.” (The New York Times, Dec. 13, 2009)

Pope Paul VI never met Amy Kehoe. It is probably safe to say that he never fully imagined the world that Kehoe exists in. It is our world, a world where all of the normal boundaries of parenthood have been breached, and one can now talk about manufacturing babies to order.

In a story headlined “Building a Baby, With Few Ground Rules,” Kehoe recounts how she found an ideal sperm donor (athletic, 4.0 grade-point average), found an egg donor (pre-med student) and found a “gestational carrier” to carry the unborn children to term. Parenting has now been redefined as a commercial investment: “We paid for the egg, the sperm, the in vitro fertilization. [The twin girls] wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for us.”

State laws on surrogacy vary widely, one of the points of reporter Stephanie Saul’s article. Some give almost no rights to the “gestational carrier.” Others do allow the woman who carries the child to term to have rights, even if she has no genetic relationship to the child.

But the Times story is also a chronicle of the tangled and unnatural webs we human beings have woven when it comes to parenthood. Single men, single women, homosexual couples: All can be parents now, thanks to the commercialization of baby making. In one anecdote, the childless sister of a partner in a legally sanctioned same-sex marriage agrees to be the surrogate mother, but then has second thoughts and has now won visitation rights.

In another case a single man from New Jersey found a surrogate mother in South Carolina who was inseminated with fertilized eggs, giving birth in Indiana to premature twins. Hospital workers became concerned about the man’s ability to care for the preemies, and who has control of the children is being fought out in the courts. A law professor appointed temporary guardian in Indiana put it succinctly: “You should not be able to come from out of state on some contract and order up some babies and then go about your business.”

Unfortunately, she is wrong. You are able to do that in 21st-century America.

In his prophetic encyclical, Pope Paul said we must accept certain limits to our power over our bodies and its natural functions. Nothing is more countercultural these days than the idea of limits. “The heart wants what it wants,” said Woody Allen as an excuse for deserting his longtime consort and marrying her adopted daughter. What the heart wants, society sees no reason to deny.

The result is a society in which the dictates of the heart, and the capacity of one’s wallet, determine what one can have. Yes, there are many good parents who have utilized in vitro fertilization, but by severing the creation of children from the procreative act, a grave danger has been unleashed. Now baby making is a private industry in which a few get quite rich and many are complicit in the manufacture, and destruction, of unborn children.

Call this Paul’s Nightmare: The procreative and the unitive functions of what was once quaintly called “the marital act” have been severed, and the dismal consequences of this divorce continue to play themselves out, with no end in sight.

Greg Erlandson is OSV’s president and publisher.