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Europa said “No” to surrogate motherhood. The reaction of Catholics

With an incontrovertible vote (83 against, 77 in favour, requiring a qualified majority vote of two thirds for approval) yesterday the Council of Europe rejected the “De Sutter Report” along with the attempt to legalize surrogate motherhood. The result reaffirms the determination to protect women and children, placing a firm limit and clamping down a cruel commercial practice based on the exploitation of the needs of women in conditions of extreme poverty and on the commodification of children, opposed not only by Catholics but also by feminists throughout Europe

The Council of Europe said no the “De Sutter Report” and to the attempt to legitimize surrogate motherhood. The vote came at the end of a disputed process that extended over two years marked by heated debates, six months of discussions within the EU Commission in Strasbourg and after four negative votes by the Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development Committee that yesterday culminated in an across-the-board, incontrovertible vote. The approval required a qualified majority of two thirds, but the official count left no margins of error: with 83 against, 7 abstained and 77 in favour the Council rejected the Report. Thus even the last appeal of Belgian senator Petra De Sutter, gynecologist, rapporteur of the document under discussion and favourable to the regulation of surrogate motherhood, was to no avail. The bona fide of such interest is suspicious, given that senator De Sutter is head of the fertility clinic of Ghent, making surrogacy its main business, in partnership with a similar structure in India which provides low-cost “child-bearers.” The evident conflict of interest – rejected by the Social Affairs Committee – did not prevent De Sutter from expressing a clear position: “since not all Member States are in favour of a universal ban, the practice must be available and become legal everywhere and must not be delegitimized”, the Senator declard. But MEPs had a different opinion and rejected the Report, reiterating their “No” to surrogate motherhood conveyed at the European Parliament past December with an amendment voted in the framework of the Annual Report on Human Rights and Democracy in the World.

Yesterday’s vote is extremely important. It sets the limits and clamps down a cruel commercial practice based on the exploitation of the needs of women in conditions of severe poverty and on the “commodification” of children, met with strong opposition –on the part of Catholic MEPs as well as that of feminists throughout Europe. On several occasions French writer and philosopher Silvyane Agacinski said that “the lobby of biotechnological industries exerts tremendous pressure” because medically assisted procreation “is a huge economic business”, thus “agencies buy and sell eggs and sperm, but what is lacking the most in their production chain is the availability of the female womb. So they turn to very fragile women, recruited on a large market that can be best described as neo-colonial”.

Satisfied reactions of those looking forward to a clear stand by the Council of Europe.

“It is not the first time that European institutions, individual States, organizations and representatives of cultural and political realms take a stand against surrogate motherhood. But hopefully it will be the last, “said Gigi De Palo, president of the Forum of Families. “We are satisfied, however – he added – with the role played by Italian parliamentarians from all political parties that enjoyed the timely and continuous support of the European Federation of Family Associations and of the Italian Family Forum. The position of families in the heart of European Institutions is growing also in terms of qualified presence and credibility.”

This position was echoed by the European Federation of Catholic Family Association (FAFCE): for its president, Antoine Renard, “a very ambiguous text, with a vague definition on how to protect the rights of children and fight surrogacy has been rejected.” Renard emphasized that the vote is also the result of a joint effort of many members of the Assembly and of the voices of various organizations that have worked together to raise public awareness on a project that “could have been approved, quietly, paving the way to all forms of surrogate motherhood.”

“With yesterday’s decision the Council of Europe rejected a false idea: namely the existence of an altruistic, gratuitous form of surrogate motherhood”, said Alberto Gambino, president of Science & Life, pro-Rector of the European University in Rome. “The idea of a pregnancy completed by others in a totally selfless manner and without any financial reward, is disproved by real data on this practice, which in fact is an exploitation of women and a trade in children.” For the jurist, it is unconceivable to legalize something that goes against the inalienable rights and dignity of women and children, who come before any law. If not, it would be deeply contrary to the principles and foundations of democracy that gives priority to the protection and safeguarding of the most vulnerable and defenseless”.

“It’s an important response to avoid abuse and openings on an issue that has already been outlawed in Italy and across a large part of Europe, “said Roberto Dante Cogliandro, President of AINC – Italian Catholic Association of Notaries -. The excessive request for legislation on these issues is likely to create confusion and foster subterfuges” explained Cogliandro, who reiterated that the issue “can instead be best resolved by following the founding criteria of our legal and social systems in favour of the main object of the debate, the child, that must be protected in the strongest and most concrete ways.”

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