What The Economist Could Learn From Solomon

The Economist began its editorial promoting paid surrogacy by quoting the Bible: the story of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar is an “exploitative version of surrogacy that still shapes attitudes and laws today.”

Why the lessons of that story do not remain relevant for today (and today’s “attitudes and laws”) is never really explained. Neither the story of Hagar nor of Mary Beth Whitehead turned out happily ever after. I would, however, invoke another Old Testament story: I Kings 3: 16-28.

In that text, two prostitutes appear before Solomon, each claiming to be a baby’s mother. Each had given birth to a child, but one died. Depending on whom you believed, one woman swapped her dead baby for the other’s living child. They petitioned Solomon to decide the question of maternity. He chose to resolve the question by the sword, proposing to cut the child in two and give each woman a half. One woman objected; the other heartlessly calculated that, in pursuit of her interests, half a child is better than none. Solomon knew who the mother was.

Solomon rendered his judgment just after the king had prayed for wisdom, a prayer for which he won Divine approval because he “did not ask for a long life … nor for riches, nor for the life of [his] enemies” (I Kings 3: 11). Wisdom, in the Judeo-Christian meaning, is not about book learning. It is about right living, above all, being right with God. The wise man knows what matters and what doesn’t. He seeks God’s Will and fears only not being in right relation, based on the right values, with him.

Solomon identified the true mother by threatening to divide (i.e., kill) the child. The true mother was willing, in her child’s best interests, to forego her claims; the pretender was only interested in her “rights” and so could say, coldly and cruelly, “‘cut it in two’” (v. 26b).

The Economist clearly employs no Solomons, because it, instead, recommends that maternity be cut in two (or even three) and that such barbarism even “be celebrated and paid.”

Indeed, the journal never engages many questions, like the question of dividing maternity. It never asks whether the good of the child is ever served by separating the genetic, gestational, and social dimensions of motherhood. The “sleek barbarians” of St. James Street, London, bracket those questions away.

Instead, they cite consequences. We need surrogacy “because fewer children are available for adoption.” They never ask the follow-on question: why? They never engage the issue of abortion, another barbarism that even pretends to be a fundamental right. They never speak of the informal albeit real campaign of prenatal capital punishment by which advocates of “quality of life” criteria, using modern technology, are eliminating disability by killing the disabled.

We also need surrogacy, The Economist insists, “because ideas about what constitutes a family have become more liberal.” The cat is slipping out of the bag: it’s now about babies for homosexual “marriages.” Proponents of homosexual “marriage” pushed their cause by insisting that marriage had no inherent relation to procreation. Of course it did, which is why homosexual couplings are naturally and necessarily sterile. But what man (or at least some judges) have put asunder, those who did the renting now want to join back together: let’s hire surrogates to supply their fertility for the “commissioning parents’” (The Economist’s own term) sterility. Again, there is no discussion about a child’s right to be raised by a mother and a father (rather than androgynous “parents”). Again, no discussion about whether social policy should support the generalized procreation of children necessarily by at least one genetic donor and/or a gestational carrier who intentionally will play no role in this baby’s life. Do we really think it is good social policy for women to carry and give birth to babies to be handed over to somebody else? No amount of maudlin braying about “everyone’s right to choose one’s love” will make those problems go away.

After tiptoeing silently around those questions, The Economist counsels us to “recognize those intending to form a family as the legal parents.” Let’s at least call this what it is: making an orphan. Beneath this dualistic, ultimately gnostic anthropology that ignores the realities of human nature and bodiliness, lies the intention to create a child whose relationship to his genetic parent and to the woman who bore him has been deliberately and premeditatively destroyed. At one time, we sympathized with a child who, because of circumstances, lost his parents. But here we are deliberately planning to create an orphan. That is barbarism.

This is no exaggeration. Advocates of surrogacy will no doubt claim that nothing of the sort of what I accuse them of is happening: the baby will go to two “loving parents.” They will also claim I am reducing parenthood to functions. The truth is that is, paradoxically, what the advocates of surrogacy are in fact doing. Yes, parenthood is not a function, but they treat it as such. I am a parent because I gave life to, bore, and raise this child. We have hitherto acknowledged that the separation of those aspects of one, single parenthood was a tragedy, even if it was sometimes unavoidable—as when a child was orphaned or had to be given up. But what is particularly perverse about these schemes is that they set out, in advance, to shatter parenthood, leaving the child to live with the shards.

The Economist tells us we should allow surrogacy because otherwise we push surrogacy to the “legal fringes.” Again, we are dealing with unspoken assumptions, viz., rich Westerners, be they sterile heterosexual couples or homosexuals, will be able to find poorer, perhaps Third World women who will sell their wombs (and maybe even their baby if they sell their fertility) for the right price. We won’t say they sold their baby because they only sold their fertility and their ovum. This comes from The Economist, a perfect illustration of knowing the price of everything but the value of nothing.

It is critical that we press back on such initiatives, because when opinion-forming media like The Economist and The New York Times (see here and here) are pushing something, you can be sure there is either some liberal interest group and/or a lucrative business opportunity waiting once we get past those nasty ethical roadblocks. And there is no doubt that reproductive technology is a huge for-profit business that, 10 years ago, was already pulling in $6.5 billion annually (see here).

Why should we burden these poor rich folks? Make no mistake about it: this is first and foremost about the contracting consumers, not the best interests of the child. If it were really about the best interests of the child, we would ban making orphans.

The story of Hagar, Sarah, and Abraham is “exploitative,” says The Economist. Contrary to what the magazine thinks, surrogacy is no less exploitative because it is “voluntary,” because there is a contract, and/or even because it pays prevailing wages. (On the exploitation of women as egg donors and/or baby carriers, see here and here.) It is exploitative because babies are not products, because biology matters, because women are not wombs for rent (even if you treat them as high rent districts), and because surrogacy is a glorified form of baby selling and human trafficking. It should neither be celebrated nor paid. It should be banned.

Editor’s note: Pictured above is a detail from “The Judgement of Solomon” painted by Frederic Henri Schopin in 1842.

John M. Grondelski


John M. Grondelski (Ph.D., Fordham) is former associate dean of the School of Theology, Seton Hall University, South Orange, NJ. All views expressed herein are exclusively his own.