Surprisingly few Catholics understand the Church’s opposition to surrogacy and egg donations, research suggests. They also crave guidance on matters of gender identity. These pressing moral issues will be addressed by two acclaimed pro-life speakers coming to the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. The information and inspiration they aim to provide has never been more needed, they told The Catholic Spirit.

Jennifer Lahl, president of The Center For Bioethics and Culture Network, a California-based think tank, will speak at St. Odilia in Shoreview Feb. 4 and at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul Feb. 5.Christopher West, a leading expert on Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body who lives near Philadelphia, speaks at St. Joseph in Lino Lakes Jan. 28 and at All Saints in Lakeville Jan. 29.

Their presentations can help empower Catholics to defend Church teachings against powerful secular pressures and a multi-billion-dollar fertility industry. Two stories highlight their work. See also: Christopher West rolls out his 2020 ‘Made For More’ tour

Wombs for rent

Jennifer Lahl’s experiences as a mother of four and a registered nurse inform her work at The Center for Bioethics and Culture Network. She’s looking out for young women who are exploited by the growing fertility industry, which globally is poised to exceed $52 billion in revenue in the next five years.

Jennifer Lahl

“As a woman, you should be able to go to a doctor or nurse and expect that they’re not suggesting you do something harmful,” she said.  

But too often, that’s not the case, she said, as a growing number of women in their prime reproductive years are encouraged to donate eggs or become surrogates. 

“I’m upset with the medical and scientific community which seems to have no regard or concern for the well-being of otherwise healthy women who are being harmed and put in harm’s way and being incentivized with money,” Lahl said.

It renders them handmaids to the authority paying them, she said — hence the title of her February talks, “Modern Handmaid’s Tale: The Ethics of Surrogacy, Egg Donation and Beyond.” 

Those financial incentives have also sullied the medical community, leading to a “slippage” in the ethics surrounding fertility treatments, Lahl said. 

The long-term effects of donating eggs have never been studied, she said. “What happens when you take healthy women and put them on high-dose fertility drugs and do this stuff to their bodies to get their eggs out of them? When you haven’t studied something, you can’t inform people of the risk.” 

Nor has the long-term impact of surrogacy been researched, she said. “What about surrogate moms? Do they have postpartum depression because they go home from the hospital with no baby, their breasts filling with milk?” 

High-tech fertility procedures are not backed by good science. “It’s making stuff up as we go,” Lahl said. “Fertility medicine came about by doctors just trying to help women get pregnant in their office. It didn’t come by studying animals and doing long-term studies. It was throwing spaghetti on the wall and seeing what sticks. Women have been the guinea pigs.” 

These facts must be relayed to Catholic families, she said. Many have not kept up on the newest technologies used to donate or implant an egg — measures that the Church unequivocally condemns, even for married couples. 

Calling the techniques “gravely immoral,” the Church teaches that they sever a child’s sacred connection to his or her mother and father. They also commodify human life.

Lahl once learned that leaders of a pro-life college group were selling their eggs because they thought it was pro-life. “‘I’m not using the eggs,’” they reasoned, “‘And I could use the $10,000.’ It’s important we educate our women before we send them off to college because they’re going to see ads.”

A better education on the Church’s opposition to surrogacy and egg donation ought to extend across platforms — from premarital counseling to Sunday homilies — Lahl believes.

For married couples who are facing infertility, Lahl proceeds with great sensitivity, urging them first to ensure they have a proper diagnosis, which often requires a doctor to determine the fundamental issues at play. She recommends NaPro doctors, who use treatments that cooperate with the reproductive system. 

She reminds couples that there are many paths to parenthood, including adoption. Other infertile women are called to spiritual motherhood. 

While in town, Lahl will join Jason Adkins, executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, to address lawmakers.

“They’re just like regular citizens: They’re woefully uneducated (about surrogacy and egg donation),” Lahl said. “They think, ‘Oh, what’s wrong with the Catholic Church, always saying no.’”

When speaking to legislators, Lahl said she dons her nurse hat. She points out that the U.S. is vehemently opposed to buying or selling organs, and yet the purchase of a woman’s eggs and the renting of her uterus remains legal.  

“You can see them wrestling with that tug,” she said. “But it’s an uphill battle. People get weak in the knees when someone can’t have a baby, and we want to help them however we possibly can.”

The issue is more urgent than ever, as groups in California and other states push for legalizing paying women to donate their eggs for research. 

Meanwhile, the fertility industry grows at record speed, prodded by the legalization of same-sex marriage and the growing demand from those couples for babies. 

“Now we have men having babies by buying eggs and renting wombs from other women,” Lahl said. “And in the middle of this perfect storm is the fragile health of women in their prime reproductive years.”  

Jennifer Lahl 

“Modern Handmaid’s Tale: The Ethics of Surrogacy, Egg Donation and Beyond”

St. Odilia, Shoreview 
7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 4

University of St. Thomas
7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 5 

Both events are free.

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