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The morality of surrogacy - reflections from the Battle of Ideas festival
Speaker Sarah Jones gives her take on our debate - plus other voices from the festival share their thoughts.
With 400+ speakers over 100+ debates, it’s unsurprising that many of our Battle panellists leave our London festival with things they didn’t get to say. And, over the past few weeks, we’ve been collecting Substacks, tweet threads, articles, videos and blogs from people who were at the Battle of Ideas festival 2023. As well as releasing video and audio from the debates, we’re sharing these personal debriefs from the weekend, to give you an insight into any of the discussions you didn’t make.
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Debates, by their nature, stimulate thought and challenge our understanding of contentious topics. None did this better than the recent Battle of Ideas Festival, a vibrant platform fostering public debate and free speech.
One of the panels I had the honour to be a part of was on ‘The Morality of Surrogacy.’ Alongside panellists such as Lexi Ellingsworth, co-founder of Stop Surrogacy Now, Gary Powell and Ella Whelan, and hosted by Dr Jan Macvarish, we dived into the ethical quandaries surrounding surrogacy in front of an audience that contributed insightful questions.
It’s worth noting that I had attended a similar debate on surrogacy a few years ago, where the atmosphere was markedly different. Back then, surrogacy didn’t seem to ignite the kind of impassioned divergence of opinion that it does today.
Why has surrogacy become such a catalyst for vehement debate? Why are we, as a society, more polarised on this issue now than before? These are questions that underscore the timeliness and relevance of our panel discussion.
I’d like to share my initial speech from the panel on ‘The Morality of Surrogacy.’ I believe it captures my position and adds context to my personal perspective on the topic.
Good morning, everyone. My name is Sarah Jones, and I serve as the CEO of SurrogacyUK, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to supporting those involved in UK surrogacy. I bring to this debate not just professional expertise but also personal experience. For over two decades, I’ve been intimately involved with surrogacy here in the UK, having acted as a surrogate on five separate occasions. The children born from these surrogacy journeys are now 20, 19, 12, 7, and three years old. I share enduring relationships with each of these individuals and their families. They all know who I am and appreciate the unique bond we share.
We gather here to discuss ‘The Morality of Surrogacy’, and while I anticipate points of agreement with my fellow panellists, I cannot subscribe to the notion that surrogacy cannot ever be conducted morally. In my view, when executed ethically and with the welfare of the child as the central focus, surrogacy can indeed be morally sound.”
In the UK, the cornerstone of ethical surrogacy is distinct from models seen elsewhere in the world. Here, especially at SurrogacyUK, surrogacy is built upon the bedrock of friendship, mutual respect, and the expectation of enduring openness and a relationship with the surrogate after the child is born. We firmly believe that ethical surrogacy is inherently tied to an altruistic model. The children born through this process should grow up knowing that their existence came about through a compassionate friendship, rather than a mere transaction. This orientation towards the process naturally places the well-being of the child at the forefront.
When we speak about the child’s well-being, we’re referring to safeguarding their emotional, physical, and psychological welfare above all else. Both the surrogate and the intended parents are consenting adults, fully aware of the implications of their choices. It’s the child’s rights and welfare that require vigilant protection. I firmly believe that ethical surrogacy can coexist with robust protections for the children involved. My aim today is not only to present the facts but also to alleviate some of the common concerns that many people hold about surrogacy.
At this juncture, it’s important to clarify a crucial point: I don’t believe that anyone inherently has a ‘right’ to a child—be it intended parents, surrogates, or anyone else who may give birth. A child is an individual in their own right, not an object to be owned. Their unique individual rights must always be the highest priority.
While you may hear compelling arguments from my fellow panellists about the potential pitfalls of surrogacy, you might be surprised to learn that I concur with many of their concerns. This is because I too am firmly against commercial surrogacy models that prioritise the desires of the intended parents over the well-being of the child or exploit surrogates who feel they have no other choice but to participate. However, it’s crucial to differentiate between these global practices and what happens here in the UK. The UK model of surrogacy distinguishes itself through its ethical and child-centred framework, a stark contrast to the commercial and exploitative models we often see elsewhere.
One common misconception stubbornly persists – that altruistic surrogacy is a myth and that ultimately babies are commodified while surrogates monetise their bodies. This perception is not only misleading but unjust. Surrogates in the UK are reimbursed only for their actual, out-of-pocket expenses, all of which are reviewed by the courts during the legal process. Far from opposing this legal scrutiny, we welcome the forthcoming legal reforms which will more strictly regulate expenses. It’s worth noting that the assumption that surrogates must be financially motivated often says more about the accusers’ own biases and values than about the ethical framework in which UK surrogates operate.
Contrary to popular belief, surrogates in the UK do not wish to be paid. In fact, during the recent consultation with the Law Commission, our surrogate community actively campaigned to maintain the altruistic nature of UK surrogacy. If we wanted to be paid, that would have been the time to push for commercialisation – we didn’t. Those who allege that expenses are inflated to generate a profit are woefully misunderstanding the very nature of these costs.
When discussing the morality of surrogacy, it’s crucial to consider the outcomes for children born through this process. Now, you might hear emotionally charged language, phrases like ‘children ripped from their mothers, suffering trauma’. Such descriptions are crafted to provoke an emotional response. So let’s dispel these notions.
Contrary to such imagery, births in UK surrogacy journeys occur in the presence of the parents. The baby is lovingly placed into the arms of its genetic mother or father, establishing immediate skin-to-skin contact—all while the surrogate is right there, supporting this moment. Far from experiencing trauma, the child is enveloped in love from three very special people in its very first seconds of life.
Comparisons are often made with adoption, which is a fundamentally a different situation. In surrogacy, the child grows up with their genetic parents, wanted, planned for and surrounded in an environment of love with an ongoing connection with their surrogate. Furthermore, we have UK-specific studies showing that children born through surrogacy here tend to have better-than-average outcomes.
In conclusion, surrogacy is a complex and deeply personal journey that quite rightly demands ethical scrutiny. However, when conducted in a manner that puts the child’s well-being front and centre, it is not only ethical but also profoundly transformative.
We must not allow the conversation to be dominated by extreme perspectives or by models that do not apply to our specific context in the UK. Let us strive for a balanced discourse that appreciates these nuances, rather than a one-size-fits-all condemnation or endorsement. The children born from surrogacy journeys in the UK are not mere outcomes of transactions; they are loved, wanted and welcomed into their own families that could be created no other way.
Thank you for giving me your attention today, and I look forward to a constructive and enlightening discussion with all of you.
Questions from the Audience
The level of audience engagement during the panel was truly remarkable, with questions reflecting a range of differing opinions and perspectives. These questions were not only relevant but also added meaningful layers to our discussion.
Unfortunately, there is never enough time with this level of in-depth discussion to answer all the questions, and our panel was no exception.
I’d like to extend my heartfelt gratitude to our audience for their insightful questions and the respectful way they contributed to the debate. Your input has certainly given me much to ponder, and has sparked important queries that I will be bringing to the attention of SurrogacyUK for further discussion and possible action
Looking at UK Research
For those interested in the nuances of UK surrogacy and third-party assisted reproduction, there are several key pieces of research and academic work that offer invaluable perspectives.
Susan Golombok: Her paper, Love and Truth: What Really Matters for Children Born Through Third-Party Assisted Reproduction, provides a thoughtful analysis of the emotional and psychological aspects affecting children born through assisted-reproduction methods.
Vasanti Jadva: Her work spans various aspects of surrogacy and can be found on the Centre for Family Research website under publications. She offers an extensive array of research that touches upon the ethical, psychological and social dimensions of surrogacy.
Kirsty Horsey, Katherine Wade & Zaina Mahmoud: Their studies, which focus on the voices of children in surrogacy law, are available here and here. These papers delve into the legal aspects of surrogacy with a unique emphasis on children’s perspectives.
These resources offer rich academic and empirical viewpoints that could serve as important foundations for anyone looking to better understand UK surrogacy.
Taking part in the Battle of Ideas festival’s debate on ‘The Morality of Surrogacy’ has been a truly enlightening experience. The richness of diverse opinions — both from the panel and our engaged audience — has added invaluable layers to this subject. I’m especially grateful for the challenging questions that will inform my continued discussions within SurrogacyUK.
In a world where it’s easy to exist within an echo chamber, dialogues like these are essential. Engaging with opposing viewpoints is imperative, especially when contemplating changes to existing laws and systems. It forces us to scrutinise our own assumptions, question our opinions and offer a perspective we may not have considered.
Let’s keep this vital conversation alive, striving for a balanced and nuanced understanding that can inform future laws, policy and practice around surrogacy.
Sarah Jones is CEO of SurrogacyUK, mother of three and has acted as a surrogate five times over the past two decades. She has campaigned for legal reform on behalf of the members of SurrogacyUK and the wider surrogacy community, and is passionate about surrogates being an integral part of the conversation on surrogacy.
More Battle of Ideas festival 2023 media and commentary…
Read Ivan Hewett’s write-up of his session Not just for snobs: defending classical music in the Telegraph: The thought police want to destroy the arts, but classical music is unimpeachable.
Spiked recorded a special edition of the Last Orders podcast - about all things ‘nanny state’ - at the festival, which featured the Telegraph’s Madeline Grant and GB News’s Patrick Christys alongside regulars Chris Snowdon and Tom Slater.
Catch the Free Speech Union’s podcast, recorded in the immediate aftermath of the Battle of Ideas festival. Ben and Tom sat down in front of their microphones with heads still buzzing from the fascinating conversations and heated debates that were held over the weekend.
Andrew Gold recorded an episode of his podcast at the festival, talking to comedian and Triggernometry co-host Francis Foster about cancel culture in comedy.
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