In cases of surrogacy where commissioning couples abandon a child who was born with a commercial surrogate, certain jurisdictions suggest that the surrogate take responsibility for the child. However, investigators reporting in the Journal of Medical Ethics suggest that commercial surrogates should not be given the responsibility of a child in the case of parental abandonment, citing arguments for potential legislation and the need for clearer definitions in such instances.

The moral implications surrounding commercial surrogacy have been extensively discussed in recent decades, particularly with regard to the legal status of motherhood for surrogates and commissioning parents. Clear examples of issues surrounding surrogacy are often found in instances in which commissioning couples divorce while a contracted surrogate is carrying the couple’s child.

In these cases, one or both parents often try to deny legal responsibility for the child, with the responsibility for the child falling on the surrogate. These issues become even more complex in certain parts of the world where definitions of parenthood are not clearly defined for surrogates and the commissioning parents.

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The decoupling of gestation and maternity in the legal sense is thought to separate surrogates from legal responsibility once the child is born; however, the ethical and moral implications involved with abandoning a baby or giving the child to an orphanage cannot be ignored. Currently, the law often treats the surrogate as the mother unless there is a contractual engagement. To avoid these issues, legislation and/or contractual rules should be explored and better defined for surrogacy programs. These rules, which should be agreed upon by all parties prior to conception, should highlight the responsibilities of the surrogate in case unforeseen circumstances arise.

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Expectations of motherhood are often withheld from surrogates. According to the investigators, “If we continue to imagine surrogates as something other than mothers as they conceive and gestate children for others, we are hard-pressed to assign maternal responsibility for those children in a moral sense simply because the commissioning parents decline to take the child.”


Parks JA, Murphy TF. So not mothers: responsibility for surrogate orphans [published online April 12, 2018]. J Med Ethics. doi:10.1136/medethics-2017-104331.