Dear Mr. President,

On March 15th 2016, the Social Affairs Committee of the PACE met in camera in Paris and rejected the draft report—with the proposals for resolution and recommendation that went with it—prepared by Belgian senator Petra De Sutter on the topic of “Human rights and ethical issues related to surrogacy”.

This draft, which basically asked the Council of Europe to approve and legitimize the practice of surrogacy under the cover of regulation through ‘guidelines’, elicited much emotion and concern in human rights and women’s rights organizations.

As a result, forty-seven non-governmental organizations from different European countries signed an Appeal for the Universal Abolition of Surrogacy and called on the Council of Europe to work for the defence of human rights, in particular the dignity of women and children ( ) .

For this reason, the signatory organizations were extremely surprised to learn that the rapporteur had been asked to present a new report on surrogacy, still with a favourable bias hiding behind the mask of the child’s interest and the hypocritical distinction between ‘commercial’ surrogacy and ‘altruistic’—and therefore legitimate—surrogacy.

This is an anti-democratic coup which is not acceptable.

It is not acceptable that the PACE deal with an issue as sensitive as surrogate motherhood in camera, without adequate information from civil society.

It is even more unacceptable given that the rapporteur is in a position of conflict of interests, contrary to the rules of the Parliamentary Assembly: not only does Mrs. De Sutter manage a hospital department which practices surrogacy, which gives her a professional interest incompatible with any neutrality on the matter, but her department also collaborates with an Indian clinic, ‘Seeds of Innocence’, where commercial surrogacy is practised and which promotes its collaboration with Mrs. De Sutter as a selling point to its international clients.

What is at stake here is public trust in the work of the Parliamentary Assembly, at a time when the transparency of institutions is a subject of legitimate concern for European citizens.

It would not be acceptable, above all, that the PACE should approve and legitimize the development of a globalized market for surrogacy, under the cover of regulation and through the instrumentalization of the delicate question of the child’s interest.

Surrogacy constitutes by its very nature an attack on fundamental rights. A process whereby a woman loans out during nine months all her physical and mental life to bear and deliver a child who is handed over to its purchasers at its birth is an appropriation of the other’s body without precedence since the abolition of slavery. Women’s rights to health are flouted: what do we know of the immediate or long-term effects of the ‘hormone treatments’ that are necessary for these artificial pregnancies? This question is systematically covered up.

The distinction between ‘commercial’ and ‘altruistic’ surrogacies is sheer hypocrisy: it is through money that the consent of the surrogate mother is extorted, even when the payment is called ‘compensation’, and psychological pressure from the family or from friends is no less formidable than the pressure of financial gain.

The beneficiaries of surrogacy, whether they be purchasers or professionals who make a profit out of it, endanger the physical and mental health of the surrogate mother, whose interests and most basic rights (such as the control over decisions related to her health) come systematically after those of the purchasers. The rise in the number of scandals has clearly demonstrated that the legal autonomy of the surrogate mother is devoid of any substance, given the serious consequences that she faces if she dares to oppose the wishes of the purchasers.

The beneficiaries of surrogacy also endanger the mental health of the child, who is transformed into the object of a contract and is used like a commercial item, with no regard for the bonds formed with its mother during pregnancy.

This is a form of exploitation which is contrary to international and European laws for the protection of human rights. It is particularly, though not exclusively, contrary to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women, international and European texts combating human trafficking, as well as the Oviedo Convention which bans the use of the human body for profiteering.

Finally, given the links that the Council maintains with the European Union, we remind you that the European Parliament, in its report on human rights for 2014 “condemns the practice of surrogacy, which undermines the human dignity of the woman” (§114).

We thank you, Mr. President of the Parliamentary Assembly, for ensuring by your action the respect of human rights and the dignity of each person.

Jocelyne Filard

Feminist lesbian activist, Co-President of the ‘Coordination Lesbienne en France’ (CLF)

Nora Tenenbaum

Feminist, ‘Coordination des associations pour le droit à la contraception et à l’avortement’ (CADAC)

Ana-Luana Stoicea-Deram

Feminist, President of the ‘Collectif pour le Respect de la Personne’ (CoRP)