The first question I’d like to get out of the way is this: do people have a right to reproduce? A few moments’ thought is sufficient to come to the conclusion that no, there is no natural right to reproduce, since doing so requires the cooperation of another human being. Therefore, it is equally apparent that although the desire for children is common and often intensely strong, the mere existence of the desire is not sufficient to justify any means of going about fulfilling it. These means must be evaluated on their own merits.
Many approach surrogacy from a libertarian perspective of contract law and the right of the surrogate to do what she pleases with her own body, but this is putting the cart before the horse, because there is a person involved who cannot consent to the contract, a person whose rights must, as a matter of moral priority, be placed above the rights of every other party in the situation.
That person is the child. No child asks to be conceived, and once conceived, has no power to either defend or waive his rights; therefore there are stern and solemn duties laid upon adults – in every time and place on earth – having to do with reproduction and the rights of children. The Convention on the Rights of the Child, an international treaty overseen by the United Nations and signed by nearly every government on Earth, states: “The child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have the right from birth to a name, the right to acquire a nationality and.[sic] as far as possible, the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents.” OHCHR
This is the natural right of all children: the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents. This right is founded in the very physical nature of human beings themselves; and decades of sociological research shows that disrespecting this right very often leads to widespread, lifelong suffering. This is the primary right in question then; since no one has a right to reproduce, and the child has a right to his parents, is surrogacy a moral means of obtaining a child?
It is often the case that surrogacy is used in conjunction with anonymous sperm or egg donors. In such a case, the surrogacy itself is beside the point – the right of the child produced by anonymous IVF has already been deliberately violated. But surrogacy, in extremely limited circumstances, could indeed be done without violating the child’s right. If a couple is able to conceive, but tragically unable to bring a pregnancy to term, then using a surrogate to carry their child to term does not violate the child’s right to his or her parents.
In that very limited case, I would say that it is not inherently immoral to use surrogacy to produce a child. However, not every action must be immoral to be unwise. Whether the trauma to the child – who cannot tell the difference between surrogacy and mother death or abandonment – is justified by the desire of the biological parents for a child is a matter for legitimate debate.
There is a perception in modern Western society that possessing a desire confers upon one the right to fulfill that desire, so long as one refrains from fraud or coercion. However, when it comes to children, the rights of the child must be prioritized above the desires of the adult. No child is capable of waiving his rights, nor is it moral for a prospective parent to waive their future child’s rights for the fulfillment of their own desires, no matter how intensely strong those desires are. This is a painful lesson of adulthood: one may desire a good thing, and yet be unable to morally gain that thing.