After writing about a seminar in Brussels on marketing surrogacy for gay would-be dads I was harshly criticized by the organizers, an American group called Men Having Babies.

I am a Belgian woman whose biological father is an anonymous sperm donor, so I have a deep and abiding interest in this kind of reproductive option. When I heard about the seminar, I attended with a notebook and an open mind. I’d like to respond to some criticisms made by the executive director of MHB, Ron Poole-Dayan.

1. I was accused of dishonesty and deception. Really? I am pretty accurate when reporting on conferences, meetings, and events. Donor-conceived people tend to be very honest. Having lived with lies about our origins, we dislike lies. We uphold high moral standards simply because for us there is no financial gain.

Personally, I think I was kind when I wrote my “misleading and hateful” post. I even left out names so that direct embarrassment could be avoided. MHB’s team recorded the presentations at the conference, did they not? The accuracy of my observations can be checked quite easily.

2. Here are some comments from the seminar which I found questionable. Judge for yourself.

There were protestors outside the Hilton. There are “crazy people outside,” said Anthony Brown, the chairman of MHB. To his credit, he apologized not long afterwards. Nevertheless he did say it.

“We don’t care if she already had a child or not,” said Anthony Brown about potential surrogates.

“We [in the US] have more children to adopt because we put a lot of people in jail,” said Ron Poole-Dayan during his description of the services offered by A New Way, an agency which organizes the adoption of American children by Dutch citizens.

“It happens frequently that birthmothers decide to keep your baby,” said Ron Poole-Dayan [emphasis added].

“I can do anything on a birth certificate,” said Molly O’Brien, the principal in an American boutique law firm specializing in surrogacy.

“Who would want to abort the baby if it has a defect?” asked Dr Brandon J. Bankowski, a fertility expert at Oregon Reproductive Medicine.

“A surrogate can be enforced to follow instructions; if not payments will be ceased,” said Steve Snyder, a lawyer and the executive director of the International Assisted Reproduction Center, in Minnesota.

“In adoption 30 percent of the birth mothers keep their child versus only in 0.5 percent of surrogacy cases there are problems,” said Steve Snyder, of the International Assisted Reproduction Center.

“Honestly, we take what we can get as surrogates,” said one surrogacy agency, dismissing previous claims at the conference that surrogates go through a high standard selection process before being introduced to intended parents.

3. The internet is a great place to do in-depth research. It is easy to discover evidence that abortion is part and parcel of the surrogacy marketplace.

For example, I stumbled across a recording of a surrogacy broker (ie, an intermediary between potential foreign customers and American clinics). It is stated that abortion cannot be legally enforced yet the ultimate decision lies with the intended parent or parents. Surrogacy agencies can connect customers with surrogates who agree in advance that they are willing to abort a baby if there is an “abnormal” condition, for example: if the baby is missing an arm.

It is also possible to arrange so-called foetal reduction. If the surrogate is pregnant with more children than the intending parent is willing to take care of, one or more can be killed in the womb while the other is safely delivered. Two cases of American surrogates who went in hiding when they tried to enforce a reduction on their healthy triplets have emerged in the media. How many others have there been?

4. Mr Poole-Dayan used “the right to existence” to justify the practice of surrogacy. Without surrogacy, this child would never have existed, he implies. Well, maybe all the spirits who want to claim their right to existence in a human form should be invited to the next conference.

During the “surrogacy boot camp” (as Anthony Brown called the morning session of the conference) genetic testing was wildly promoted. The idea was that intending parents should be provided with a healthy infant. Many speakers promoted embryo selection as a form of quality control. They explained that embryos with the slightest abnormality are destroyed.

This seems to contradict the “right to existence”. If MHB is advocating for a right to life, does this apply for all babies or only for those who look like the pictures used in glossy brochures?

5. Mr Poole-Dayan was indignant about my scepticism regarding the ethical standards of his organization and the surrogacy industry.

Well, on this issue, I believe that I have abundant experience in my own personal life and as the head of Donorkinderen, a Belgian group which tries to find the parents of children conceived through anonymous gamete donation.

I spend most of my time cleaning up the mess the fertility industry leaves behind, helping donor conceived children, parents and the “genetic material contributors”. On a daily basis I am a witness of the suffering this practice inflicts on those who are created and those who are involved. It even extends from one generation to the next.

I can’t say that I am surprised by MHB’s reaction. It’s not the first time that this company has tried to impose its views on others or to silence those who dare to question the ethics of the surrogacy marketplace.

An American donor-conceived woman, Alana Newman, the founder of Anonymous Us, told me that she silently handed out flyers at a MHB event in New York in 2013. It read:

“My name is Alana. I am donor conceived and miss my biological father every day. I know that the children you are fundraising to create will miss their biological mothers with just as much intensity. I’m also a mother. I had an emergency C-section to deliver my daughter despite being healthy and young. I still have nightmares about it. A woman should be surrounded by her family that loves her when she risks her life to bring forth life, not by strangers on a budget. Please don’t support family structures that deny children a right to their natural mother and father.”

She was harassed on the street by a man and a woman. They threw the flyers in her face whilst verbally abusing her and chasing her away.

MHB is very proud of its “ethical framework”. But fine words cannot hide the true purpose of surrogacy.

It doesn’t matter how many advisory boards that MHB puts together: it can never and never will justify the fundamental injustice that is inflicted on those who are being created or being exploited to keep a business going. Two wrongs don’t make a right. Every practice carried out at the expense of the welfare and best interests of a person is unethical and should be forbidden, not legalized or practiced.

I look forward to attending next year’s conference in Brussels.

Stephanie Raeymaekers is the chair of Donorkinderen, a Belgian organisation that promotes cross-border registration of donors and the right of donor-conceived persons to know their parentage. The above article is reproduced from the Donorkinderen blog with her permission.Contact her on stephke.r@pandora.be 

Michael Cook

Michael Cook is the editor of MercatorNet