Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The issues below have become more critical with daily technological advances. The positions expressed are those of Holy Trinity Seminary and reflect the opinions of our late spiritual fathers such as Metropolitan Laurus and Archimandrite Kiprian.
+ Bishop Luke
Rector, Holy Trinity Seminary
Currently, reproductive biomedical technology, called "surrogate motherhood", is becoming increasingly widespread. Although this practice is permitted by law in several countries, it continues to cause heated discussions in society. The "Fundamentals of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church", adopted by the Jubilee Bishops' Council in 2000, assesses this phenomenon. However, a number of issues concerning the pastoral attitude to the consequences of "surrogacy" continues to be debatable. By this document, the Russian Orthodox Church gives church-practical instructions concerning the baptism of children born with the help of a "surrogate mother".
The Church understands marriage as an institution established by God, rooted in God-created human nature. In the Christian understanding, marriage is a spiritual and bodily union of a man and a woman, allowing them to fully realize their human nature.
The Church sanctifies marriage by likening it to the spiritual union of Christ and His Church (Eph 5:22-33). The fruit of marital love is children, "whose birth and upbringing, according to Orthodox teaching, is one of the most important goals of marriage" (USC X.4).
The birth of a child is not only a natural consequence of marital relations, but also a great event of the coming into the world of a new person bearing the image and likeness of God the Creator. By giving birth to children, husband and wife assume a special responsibility, since they are called upon to take the utmost care of both their children’s physical as well as spiritual health — beginning from the period of intrauterine development and continuing through birth and childhood and remaining until the entrance into adulthood.
A special role in the birth and upbringing of children belongs to the mother, who is closely connected with her child by physical, mental and spiritual ties. The Church sees a great example of motherhood in the Most Holy Theotokos, whose image reveals the highest dignity of a woman, and the uniqueness of her maternal vocation.
A serious problem that families often face is the infertility of one or both spouses. The Church sympathizes with childless spouses, blessing them to pray for the gift of offspring, to consult doctors for the treatment of infertility, as well as to adopt children.
We consider artificial insemination with the husband's sperm cells to be an unacceptable option because of the means by which those cells are obtained (Onanism). This is frequently also accompanied by the destruction of fertilized eggs.
As for the practice of so-called "surrogate motherhood", it is unequivocally condemned by the Church :” ‘Surrogate motherhood’, that is, the carrying and bearing of a fertilized egg by a woman who then returns the child to "customers" after childbirth, is unnatural and morally unacceptable even in cases where it is carried out on a non-commercial basis" (USC XII.4)
The very term "surrogate motherhood" indicates a distortion in the understanding and appreciation of the lofty maternal duty and vocation. The practice of surrogacy is, in contrast, a humiliation of the human dignity of a woman, whose body in this case is simply considered an incubator.
In addition, the practice of "surrogate motherhood" impedes the full formation of the natural relationship between mother and child, and has negative consequences for all parties involved in this practice: for the biological mother who gives birth to a child, and then is forced to part with him as soon as he is separated from his mother's womb; for the child himself, who instead of a full-fledged mother either has two “partial” mothers, or has none (as in the case of a single man who wishes to have "biological offspring"); finally, for a society in which the understanding of the family and of the special singular relationship that exists between parent and child, and grandparent and grandchild is lost.
The public danger of the practice of "surrogate motherhood" corresponds with a radical change in the very idea of human nature. In this case, the understanding of a person as a unique personality is replaced by the image of a person as a biological individual, who can be arbitrarily constructed by manipulating elements of "genetic material". "The world is gradually developing an attitude towards human life as a product that can be chosen according to one's own inclinations and which can be disposed of on a par with material values" (USC XII.4).
The use of reproductive technologies to "provide children" for infertile couples, single men or women is gradually turning into a profitable business that provides a way to earn money for both reproductive cell donors and "surrogate mothers". As a result, the sacrament of the birth of a person becomes the subject of trade and monetary relations. The Divinely sanctioned marriage, based on love and fidelity, is being replaced by the "market of reproductive services", ready to satisfy any consumer request for the artificial birth of a child in accordance with the requested specifications.
The Church is open to all people seeking salvation. Baptism is the sacrament of joining the Church and presupposes a person’s consent to submit fully to the Church’s teachings. The Sacrament of Baptism is performed in the Orthodox Church on both adults and infants. Adults are admitted to the sacrament after appropriate preparation, that is, catechization — instruction in Christian doctrine and Christian morality. In such cases, the decision on the timing of baptism is made by the parish priest conducting the catechism.
In the case of a baby's baptism, consent for him is given by adults — parents and sponsors. The condition for the baptism of an infant is contingent upon the parents’ agreement to bring the child up in the Christian faith in accordance with the norms of Christian morality, which implies the regular participation of parents, the child, and the sponsors in church services and Sacraments.
As for the question of the possibility of baptizing babies born by a "surrogate mother", the following factors must be considered when addressing it.
On the one hand, any baby can be baptized — according to the faith of those who intend to baptize him. A child cannot be responsible for the actions of his parents and is not to blame for the fact that his birth is connected with reproductive technology, condemned by the Church.
On the other hand, the responsibility for the Christian upbringing of the infant is borne by parents and adoptive parents. If the parents do not bring explicit repentance for what they have done, and the sponsors actually express endorsement of the sinful act that has been committed, then there can be no question of Christian education. The refusal to baptize infants in such a case will correspond to the Orthodox tradition, which presupposes the consent of the baptized, and – in the case of the baptism of the infant — his parents and adoptive parents to submit to the teachings of the Church. Such a refusal will also have a pastoral significance, since thereby society will receive a clear signal from the Church that the practice of "surrogacy" is unacceptable from a Christian point of view.
A child born with the help of "surrogate motherhood" can be baptized at the request of the persons raising him, only after either his "biological parents" or "surrogate mother" express true repentance upon realizing that from a Christian point of view such reproductive technology is morally reprehensible. This is permissible regardless of whether they consciously or unconsciously ignored the position of the Church. Only with this acknowledgement will the Church be able to expect that the baptized child will be brought up in the Orthodox faith and Christian moral ideas will be instilled in him. However, if such awareness does not occur, then the decision on baptism is postponed until the time of the child's conscious personal choice. In the latter case, the fact of his "surrogate birth" in itself is not an obstacle to the baptism of a person, because he is not responsible for the behavior of his parents.
In the case when a baby born by a "surrogate mother" is brought to the Church, the issue of his baptism can be resolved in accordance with the instructions of the diocesan bishop, who is obliged to be guided in each case by the norms contained in this document. The performance of the Sacrament of Baptism by a priest in such a case without the blessing of the bishop serves as the basis for the application of canonical prohibitions to this priest.
In mortal danger, the baptism of infants is blessed, regardless of the circumstances of their birth.
This stated position is based on the teaching of the Church about the inadmissibility of infant baptism in families whose members clearly and deliberately neglect the Church tradition and do not share the Christian doctrine of marriage and family, such as in “same sex marriage”, and thereby, practically, excludes the possibility of Christian upbringing of a child. This concerns not only the issue of "surrogate motherhood", but any consciously expressed unwillingness to live in accordance with the Church’s teachings.
Translated from: http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/print/3481024.html
Edited at Holy Trinity Monastery