The path to peace calls for respect for life, for every human life, starting with the life of the unborn child in the mother’s womb, which cannot be suppressed or turned into an object of trafficking.  – Pope Francis 

Pope Francis recently called for an international ban on the practice of surrogacy, calling it “deplorable” and a “grave violation of the dignity of the woman and the child.”

We know abortion is wrong because it clearly destroys a human life. But how can a medical intervention that procreates at the same time disrespect the dignity of the human person? Why such a strong statement from the pope? And what does it have to do with peace?

Among other things, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that peace cannot be attained on earth without “respect for the dignity of persons and people.” Peace is one of the fruits of the theological virtue of charity, “by which we love God above things for His own sake and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God.” St. Augustine calls peace the “tranquility of order.”

In surrogacy, a woman is impregnated by in vitro fertilization for the sole purpose of carrying a baby through pregnancy, then surrendering the baby after birth to an intended couple or person. The embryo is created in a lab, using the egg and sperm of the intended couple or perhaps another donor. Typically, the surrogate has no legal rights to the baby she carries, and certainly the baby has none.

The Church teaches that a medical intervention respects the dignity of the human person when it seeks to assist the conjugal act in achieving its objective of pregnancy. However, when a procedure replaces the conjugal act, as in the case of IVF, it contradicts the dignity of both the couple and the child to be born, and therefore, is considered illicit.

Besides disrespecting the natural order of procreation, IVF presents other ethical concerns, such as discarding “extra” or “unwanted” embryos, freezing them, or using them for embryonic research.

Surrogacy adds further layers of ethical concerns. It objectifies women and has the potential to exploit poor women, treats babies as commodities (bought and sold, “trafficked”), creates complicated legal considerations for the surrogate, the baby, and the intended parent(s), creates a market for human beings, and more.

It must be said that the Church always recognizes the dignity and inherent value of every human life, no matter the circumstances of conception. It is precisely because of this dignity that the Church considers children as a gift, having the right to “be the fruit of the specific act of the conjugal love of his parents.”

The Church also has great compassion for couples experiencing infertility, which can be a heavy cross to bear. There are good Catholic resources available to help couples learn of ethical infertility treatments.  Couples might want to seek the counsel of physicians trained in ethical fertility care, such as the Creighton Model System and NaPro Technology.

Catholics must be aware that just because a medical intervention is possible, does not make it ethical.  As Pope Francis puts it so succinctly, “A child is always a gift and never the basis of a commercial contract.”

Respect for the human person brings true peace.

— Eileen Haupt is respect life coordinator for the Diocese of Burlington.


Directory of fertility care centers:

National Catholic Bioethics Center:

Commentary by Jennifer Roback Morse:

Donum Vitae:

Commentary by Father Tad Pacholczyk:

Begotten Not Made:

—Originally published in the Spring 2024 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.