Perhaps the central social teaching of the Catholic Church is that all human beings are always to be treated as ends in themselves, never as means to another end. Many of the Church’s individual social teachings are deductions from this axiom. Reminders of this have been a constant in the papacy of Pope Francis. He has warned repeatedly of the “commodifiction” of everything, including human life.
On May 13 the movie Breeders: A Subclass of Women? was screened at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco. Breeders is the final installment of a trilogy directed by Jennifer Lahl, president of the Center for Bioethics and Culture. The previous two movies in the series were Eggsploitation, about women who sell their eggs so that they can be fertilized and the baby can be borne by another women. Eggsploitation was followed by Anonymous Fatherhood, which covered the same issue, but under sperm donation. Breeders describes the consequences to women who become involved in the industry of “surrogate” motherhood. The word “surrogate” is in quotation marks, because, as Breeders make clear, there can never be anything “surrogate” about motherhood. Breeders tells the stories of five women – four surrogate mothers and one woman who was born through a surrogate pregnancy – and the effect on them and their children.
Three of the four mothers profiled in Breeders cited financial motivation for their decision to become surrogates. The fourth was motivated by a desire to assist her brother and his male friend in their desire to “have” a child. All four were ultimately devastated by their decision. The young woman who was born as a result of a surrogate pregnancy shared her insights as to what it means to know that you were born as the result of a commercial transaction.
Breeders is not a theoretical exercise—it does not spend much time analyzing why surrogate motherhood is wrong in principle. Nor does it offer statistics, although they may be found at the website of the Center for Bioethics and Culture. What Breeders does is share the stories of women, and one grown child, who have been damaged by the practice. Countervailing examples may be found on various websites which support surrogacy. Writers on such sites have attacked the movie, and have offered examples from surrogate mothers who support the practice. In Breeders, short bits of principled opposition to surrogacy are offered by the ethicists and the representatives of the National Organization for Women, one of whom describes the practice as “industrial human farming,” and another who sees in surrogacy “natural parallels to prostitution and pornography.”
Principled opposition to this newest of human practices is offered by the oldest of human institutions: the Catholic Church. The practice of surrogate motherhood was addressed in the 1987 instruction Donum Vitae and reiterated in the 2008 instruction Dignitas Personae.
Monsignor Charles Pope of the archdiocese of Washington DC writes: “And so, having set forth a kind of sacred trilogy that the human person, human sexual intercourse, and marriage are all sacred, we now observe the God has united these three sacred realities and intends them to be together. The human person, who is sacred, is intended to be conceived in the loving and sacred embrace of sexual intercourse, between a man and woman in the sacred union of holy matrimony.” Emphases in the original.
Breeders closes with one of the mothers describing a visit with her daughter, now five years old. The little girl is at that stage of life where she is intensely interested in the meaning of family relationships and who in the family looks like whom. She knows she does not look like her “parents.” She knows she does look like her real mother, and asks her. “We have the same hair and the same eyes. Why did you give me away?”
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