by William Cutrer, M.D. and Sandra Glahn, Th.M.

Womb for rent? Isn’t that what Abraham and Sarah tried with Hagar?

A Christian couple recently went to a surrogacy agency and paid approximately $50,000 for services. They were matched with a surrogate, who went on to carry their twins to term.

Say the word “surrogacy” and most people automatically think about nightmare court cases and convoluted family structures. Many Christians have been outspoken against surrogacy arrangements, labeling it clearly as sin.

However, the fact that there are approximately 100,000 frozen embryos slated for destruction should give us pause here. What if, instead of allowing the destruction of human life, we considered gestational surrogacy arrangements to keep these embryos from being destroyed? What may not be wise in an ideal world may actually be the best solution in this ethical dilemma.

The couple mentioned above had undergone an in vitro fertilization procedure during which multiple eggs were retrieved and six fertilized. Three embryos were then placed in the wife’s uterus, and the remaining three were cryopreserved (frozen). The wife went on to give birth, but medical complications required doctors to remove her uterus at the time of delivery. That left the couple with three frozen embryos and no means of carrying them.

Because the husband and wife believe life is precious, even at the one-celled stage, they felt they had no choice but to find a woman who would help them carry the embryos to term. For them, this was an application of their respect for life, recognizing that “children are a gift from the Lord” (Psa. 127:3).

Consider that there are two types of surrogacy arrangements.

Traditional surrogacy is generally used when carrying a pregnancy is life threatening to the mother and/or when the adopting mother has neither functioning ovaries nor uterus. The surrogate donates her own eggs and the use of her uterus. A physician inseminates her with the sperm of the husband, and the resulting child is biologically related to the surrogate (the “third party”) and the husband of the couple. Traditional surrogacy carries with it more complicated issues than sperm, ovum, or embryo donation because in a surrogate arrangement, the donor has contact with the child through the nine-month gestation and birth, and she has a biological connection to the child.

Gestational surrogacy, the arrangement used by the couple mentioned above, is an arrangement in which a surrogate provides a “host uterus” for a woman who is able to produce her own eggs. In this case, the surrogate receives the couple’s embryo conceived through an ART procedure, (reference our earlier column) and/or she receives an embryo that has been cryopreserved and would otherwise be destroyed.

The typical surrogate mother is married, has at least one child, and is between 25 and 35 years old. Many have had elective abortions in the past and volunteer to bear a child as a means of healing from past decisions.

Surrogacy is expensive. Some centers estimate it costs between $35,000 and $50,000. Most of that does not go to the surrogate. It covers counselors’, attorneys’ and physicians’ fees. Beyond the obstacle of cost comes the long process of matching.

In the case of embryo donation, Snowflake Adoption Services (which seeks to match embryos with gestational surrogates) estimates that it costs approximately $6,000 for embryo adoption through their help. However, Internet services are emerging to link couples wanting to find “parents” for their frozen embryos with couples wanting to “adopt” the embryos. In this case, the cost for matching runs about $60, and the medical details are worked out between the couples involved. In an unusual twist of events, gestational surrogacy could provide a creative means of pro-life involvement.

The issue of whether or not couples should cryopreserve embryos is a completely different debate. But in cases such as this—where embryos are suspended endlessly in a cryopreserved state—it would appear that the “sanctity of life” ethic may take precedence in favor of surrogacy arrangements. Perhaps surrogacy is sometimes the best solution in a complicated scenario.