Politics & Policy

Death and Other Scandals of Surrogate-Mother Contracts

(Andreaobzerova/Dreamstime)

On October 8 2015, a young mother died of complications from childbirth.

If we can believe the GoFundMe page put up under the name of Kathleen McRoberts, an Idaho and Utah fertility lawyer, this woman’s name was Brooke: “She was a mother, a friend, and a surrogate mother to 5 babies. She was an advocate and the face for everything good about surrogacy.”  

In her death, Brooke is also the reminder of many things that are bad about surrogacy.

As the news of Brooke’s death circulated through the network, this week in Canada another woman, named Nancy, came forward to discuss her brush with death as a result of a pregnancy created with a surrogacy contract, according to the National Post: “Carrying triplets for complete strangers, the Ontario woman developed first high blood pressure, then congestive heart failure, before she was put into a medically induced coma last fall to save her life — and that of the infants.”

RELATED: The Hidden Costs of Surrogacy

Nancy signed with an American agency, was paired with a Canadian couple, and ended up in a Mexican clinic with two embryos inserted in her womb. She said she heard nothing about the increased risk of pre-eclampsia in women carrying multiples — until after she was diagnosed with the condition while pregnant.

“Two days later, Nancy was struggling to breathe, and doctors diagnosed potentially deadly congestive heart failure, which causes fluid to accumulate on the lungs,” reports the National Post. Worried that her sky-high blood pressure could trigger a stroke, they induced the coma, then conducted a Caesarean section.” Nancy’s uterus had to be removed, and she went through instant menopause.  The once so-cherishing, so-called support groups for surrogate moms kicked her out when Nancy went online to share her terrible experience.

RELATED: Why Gestational Surrogacy Is Wrong

“American women are being paid to put themselves at significant physical risk every day in this country to produce babies for others,” said Jennifer Lahl, president of the Center for Bioethics and Culture, which believes surrogacy should be outlawed in the U.S. “These mostly low-income women are injected with powerful hormones and other drugs to maximize chances of pregnancy, virtually without government oversight. Women didn’t get this far to be treated like breeding animals.” Lahl’s organization is calling for congressional investigations into the third-party reproductive industry, which is unregulated in the United States.

#share#Maternal death from childbirth is very rare. “But surrogates, and others, undergoing fertility treatment face elevated dangers,” says the National Post. We know that “surrogate” pregnancies are more dangerous because the risks of pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes, and hysterectomies are all several times greater for women carrying twins. Embryos developed through in vitro fertilization are typically implanted multiples because it is cheaper for the “intended parents” to do it that way. But donated eggs with high hormonal treatments also appear to pose higher risks for the gestating mother.

RELATED: Surrogacy Industry’s War on Women

Unlike Nancy, Brooke can’t tell us what she went through or what she thought about in the end. We don’t know if she was warned of the medical risks of repeat surrogate pregnancies in quick succession — I doubt that the medical data have ever been properly compiled.

I doubt deeply that anyone ever told Brooke of the deep wisdom of the Catholic teaching, 2,000 years old, that points to surrogacy as a form of adultery — the teaching that the body of the wife belongs to the husband, and that the body of the husband belongs to the wife. Neither has the right to have children with another human being, to violate the one-flesh union their marriage creates — not even if he has the most burning desire for another woman’s body, or she for another woman’s children.

RELATED: ’Souls on Ice’ and the Exploited Women Who Would Be Their Surrogate Mothers

Michael Feinman, an Encino, Calif., infertility specialist who reported the news of an unnamed surrogate mother’s death in America on October 9, says he has seen “a growing trend of women requesting surrogacy for weak or non-existent medical reasons.” He cites “an increase in wealthy women from certain countries that can easily carry a baby, but see gestational surrogacy as a way to obtain a U.S. passport for their child.”

How can we imagine it right for a medical professional to put a healthy young mother at any increased medical risk because another couple, gay or straight, wants a child?

But putting that aside, how can we imagine it right for a medical professional to put a healthy young mother at any increased medical risk because another couple, gay or straight, wants a child? How can lawyers make a living treating women like much-petted and praised broodmares for the wealthy infertile?

The lawyer who arranged the surrogacy contract that cost Brooke her life sounds like a very nice woman. “Today we said good bye to our dear friend,” the GoFundMe page reads. “Her life was filled with so much more than surrogacy but she came into our lives because of it. Her memory lives on with each of us who had the pleasure of knowing and working with Brooke.”

And Kathleen, Kim, and Deb of Third Party Reproduction chipped in a whole $250 — a few hour’s work? — for the three kids with the dead mom whom they helped contract into not one but five surrogate pregnancies.

Kathleen McRoberts’s professional bio on her firm’s website reports she has personally experienced IVF — though not, I am guessing, as the surrogate. “With a deep commitment to helping others, and a passion and knowledge of the fertility methods, she . . . works closely with agencies and fertility clinics to be part of the team to help you build your family.”

Or, in this case, to help a young mother’s children lose theirs forever.

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