Jewish Surrogate Motherhood

Rabbis across the denominational spectrum question the morality of surrogacy, but some believe that these concerns can be allayed.

Print this page Print this page

Surrogacy May Undermine Marriage

Reform rabbi Marc Gellman expresses yet another moral concern. While surrogacy may not technically be adultery, introducing a third party into the couple's reproductive process may feel dangerously close to that and may ultimately undermine the couple's relationship altogether. Furthermore, in ovum surrogacy using the husband's sperm (the most common type of surrogacy), the wife is being asked to raise a child who is genetically her husband's but not hers-‑and one carried by another woman to boot. "The sanctity of family life requires a single husband and wife."

Along the same lines, Israel's Health Ministry outlawed surrogacy in 1987 on the grounds that "the practice was just unacceptable," in addition to the resulting uncertainty as to the identity of the parents of the child.

These moral concerns are real. In a landmark responsum adopted by the Conservative movement's Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, however, Rabbi Elie Spitz responds to many of them, and I think that the others can be satisfactorily addressed as well.

Responding To the Social and Economic Concerns

Let us speak first to Rabbi Gordis's social concerns. It is indeed true that only the rich will be able to afford such a procedure, and that will amplify the differences between rich and poor. The United States, though, is not a socialist country, and while Americans have considered it important to provide basic medical care to the elderly and to those who cannot afford it through programs like Medicare and Medicaid, even the most liberal stances in American politics do not endorse making surrogacy available at public expense. […]

The degradation of the woman, an issue raised by both Rabbis Jakobovits and Gordis, is a more serious issue, but that fear has been substantially allayed by the brief history of surrogacy. Rabbi Spitz reports that at least eight doctoral dissertations and other professional studies probing surrogacy have been conducted, and all of them belie the early predictions and concerns about the procedure. Surrogate mothers, the studies found, are not generally black and poor; on the contrary,

"the typical surrogate mother was twenty‑eight years old, married with children, employed full‑time, and had thirteen years of education. Her husband was supportive of her decision to serve as a surrogate. Most were Caucasian, middle‑range in income bracket, in good health, and had positive experiences in past pregnancies. While money was a factor in choosing to become a surrogate, it rated consistently lower than the desire to help another couple."

Since surrogacy is rare and the surrogate mother is generally not poor, Rabbi Gordis's worries about women on welfare being forced to serve in this capacity have proven unfounded. […]

Responding To the Enslavement Claim

The concern that surrogate mothers might be virtual slaves has largely been allayed by developments in American civil law.

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Rabbi Elliot N. Dorff

Rabbi Elliot N. Dorff is Rector and Sol and Anne Dorff Professor of Philosophy at the American Jewish University in California.