Media reports this morning are headlining the welcome that Elton John and David Furnish are giving to their newborn baby. To be more precise, they report the welcome that is being given to the birth of a baby to a surrogate mother who has carried the baby for them. The BBC News report is here, and the original report on the USmagazine.com website is here. The BBC report includes a brief account of the unsuccesful attempt made by Elton John and David Furnish to adopt a child from the Ukraine.
The couple are quoted as saying that "we are proud and happy parents", and it is going to seem churlish to make critical comment about their "happiness and joy at this very special moment". However, whilst at one level this is a matter of the personal happiness and joy of Elton John and David Furnish, and at that level is in a way a "private" matter on which it would be wrong for anyone else to comment adversely, at another level this is a matter that has implications for society as a whole and therefore affects us all. It seems to me quite appropriate to comment at this second, public level whilst remaining respectful of the choices and decisions that Elton John and David Furnish have made in their own lives.
At this second, public level I would ask the following questions.
1. Should we share the "happiness and joy" of Elton John and David Furnish at this "very special moment", or can we recognise the sadness of the situation that will overshadow the very natural instinct to share their joy? A child has been created outside of the married relationship of a man and a woman, and of the sexual act between a husband and wife. A woman from outside any such relationship has conceived and carried to term a child to meet the wishes of others - in an objective and philosophical sense, the woman has been used as a means to an end rather than being recognised as a person who is an end in herself (though subjectively it is quite possible that her experience does not reflect this and she may feel she has had a positive experience of the events). The media reports indicate that the privacy of the surrogacy arrangements are going to be protected, so we may never know the whole story of this. A child has been created in a way that can be described as "instrumental" and, whilst to speculate about the motivation of Elton John and David Furnish would be to trespass on to the level of this matter that is rightly "private", nevertheless the precedent that it sets in the public consciousness for other same-sex couples raises the question at the public level of the creation of children, not as persons who are philosophically speaking an end in themselves, but are a means to fulfilling the felt needs of the same-sex couple.
2. What does it mean to be a "parent"? Can one separate the idea of being a "parent" from that of being a "father" and a "mother", as is being done very readily in this case? Should we go along with the implicit redefining of the idea of being a "parent" that removes from that idea the sense of male and female complementarity? The question can be examined from the point of view of biology, in which case parenthood might be defined by the male gene set ("fatherhood") and the female gene set ("motherhood") that come together, through the sexual relationship of the "father" and "mother", to create the embryo and the new baby. Implicit at this biological level is the demand to care for the new baby that is also associated with the terms "father" and "mother". The question can also be examined from the point of view of persons - the "father" is the male figure who cares for the person of the new baby and the "mother" is the female figure who cares for that same person. Across both points of view a male-female complementarity is apparent. However a key insight of the teaching of Humanae Vitae, though apparent there in a different specific context, comes into play at this point. There should not be a chosen and willed separation of the content of the terms "father" and "mother" viewed from the point of view of persons from the content of those same terms viewed from the biological point of view. The two points of view offer an integrated, single concept of being a "parent" and therefore of being a "father" or a "mother". The one can only be truly lived if the other is also truly lived. Now Elton John and David Furnish might well have responsibility for the care of the baby that has been conceived and born for them, but that relationship of care is not one that can be correctly termed as being a "parent" or being "parents". One of the couple might be the "father" in the genetic sense, but not in any other sense. Neither of them is in any sense a "mother". So I think we should offer some critique of the way in which Elton John and David Furnish are describing themselves as "proud parents".
In summary, whilst at one level respecting the choices that Elton John and David Furnish have made in their own lives, at another level I feel able to offer a public critique of what they have done in using a surrogate mother to have a child. I am not able at this second, public level to share their "happiness and joy" or to accept that they are "parents" in a genuine sense.
UPDATE: Paulinus has a useful post on this matter here. The discussion among the comments to his post is also worth reading.