Surrogate motherhood is legal in many countries, despite the many ethical problems it raises.
I remember a thoroughly disturbing story some years back in a U.S. magazine. An overworked businesswoman who didn't want to bother with the chore of being pregnant – let alone the risk of gaining weight – had subcontracted the duty of carrying her baby to an immigrant woman.
The biological parents closely monitored her diet and health and paid her a handsome sum of money. The deal was narrated by the biological mother in a chillingly cheerful tone, as if this was a normal thing. The magazine's cover showed her holding the baby, her pretty, impossibly thin body untouched by the effects of maternity. I remember feeling that we had entered the kind of brave new world Aldous Huxley imagined.
The issue now arises closer to home. A gay Quebec couple (Joël Legendre, a popular TV host, and his partner, Junior Bombardier) have used a surrogate mother whose in vitro fertilization was paid for by the province's exceedingly generous fertility treatment program. They are expecting female twins, produced by an ovum bought from an American bank and chosen in a catalogue that lists the characteristics of women willing to sell their genetic material. Not only will the twins never know who their mother was, but the two men had their sperm mixed so that it will never truly be known which of them owned the spermatozoon that fertilized the ovum.
Mr. Legendre joyfully announced the coming birth on his Facebook page and proudly described how he brought his provincial MNA, former Parti Québécois minister Jean-François Lisée, to put pressure on the former health minister so that the Quebec health-insurance plan would pay for the fertilization procedure. (Mr. Legendre says the surrogate didn't receive any money – she was just a friend willing to help.)
Five other gay couples have apparently followed suit on the heels of this precedent. Mr. Legendre argues that since men have no uteruses, it's discriminatory if they don't have equal access to the fertilization program.
That argument has proven controversial. Is there such a thing as "the right" to have a child? And what about the right of a child to know his or her origins? Should society condone the use of a female body as a hothouse for babies by financing the in vitro procedure with public money?
Initially, Quebec's fertility program was conceived as a medical solution for infertile couples, who had to pay for the costly procedure.
But in 2010, then-premier Jean Charest gave in to Julie Snyder, a high-profile TV producer who was living with Quebecor supremo Pierre Karl Péladeau. The couple had two children by IVF and Ms. Snyder lobbied hard for the program to be made free. (Was Mr. Charest trying to secure the favour of the head of the largest media empire in the province? If so, it didn't work, since Mr. Péladeau is now a Parti Québécois MNA.)
As it stands, the program is open free of charge to practically any woman with a Quebec health card. The cost to Quebec more than doubled over its first three years, reaching $67-million in 2013 – this in a cash-strapped province where many seriously ill patients don't receive timely treatment.
The issue is now on the "to do" file of new Health Minister Gaétan Barrette, a former head of the Fédération des médecins spécialistes du Québec who once called the IVF program "an open bar."