The World

Olivia Maurel: "There is absolutely no 'right' to have a child".

When Olivia Maurel discovered, in her youth, that she had been "commissioned" by her parents, her life fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. Her testimony in the parliament of the Czech Republic in November 2023 was clear: there is never any justification for forcing a child to be born in order to separate it from its biological mother.

Maria José Atienza-April 13, 2024-Reading time: 7 minutes

"The path to peace demands respect for life, for every human life, beginning with that of the unborn child in the womb, which cannot be suppressed or turned into a commercial product. In this sense, I consider deplorable the practice of so-called surrogate motherhood, which gravely offends the dignity of the woman and the child; and is based on the exploitation of the mother's situation of material need. A child is always a gift and never the object of a contract. I therefore call upon the international community to commit itself to a universal prohibition of this practice". With these harsh words, Pope Francis denounced, at the beginning of January 2024, the practice of surrogate motherhood in his address to the members of the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See.

A few weeks before this speech, one of the most important of the year for the Pope, young Olivia Maurel had sent a letter to the Holy Father. Although Olivia declares herself an atheist and militant feminist, she sent the pontiff a letter in which she recounted her experience of suffering as a surrogate daughter and pointed out that the Pope could understand her "and share the anguish and injustice I have suffered, because I know your commitment against the 'new forms of slavery', your criticism of the 'globalization of indifference' and the 'culture of waste', of which surrogacy is a manifestation, as well as a threat to the family".

Surrogate motherhood, which was covered in depth by Omnes in issue number 727, corresponding to May 2023, has been in the news in recent months. There are numerous reports about people, always wealthy, who resort to a third party to gestate a child.

The legal problems and the flagrant violation of fundamental human rights are added to the physical and psychological consequences for pregnant mothers and their children.

Concerned about this situation, in March 2023, jurists, physicians and academics from several countries signed the Casablanca Declaration for the abolition of surrogacy, of which the French Olivia Maurel has become the visible face.

Maurel, who gave an interview to Omnes on this occasion, hopes that "the Catholic Church will be one of the standard bearers in the fight against surrogacy".

32 years old and living in France, she is today the legitimate spokesperson of the fight against a new modern slavery such as the practice of surrogate motherhood. Her testimony has gone around the world, appearing in numerous media in various countries. Her goal is to denounce this practice, to call for its abolition and, above all, to make known her personal experience and the consequences of surrogacy, both on surrogate mothers and surrogate children.

You discovered that you were a surrogate daughter as an adult, but before that you had felt that "something was going on". What was your childhood life like, and how did you feel when you found out you were a surrogate daughter?

-My parents were older than the average of my friends' parents, and I had an "older" style of upbringing.

I never had the relationship with my parents that I currently have with my children. I never cuddled with them, I never trusted them, even though I had everything I needed, materially speaking.

Today I am very close to my children, with a very close connection to them. I loved my parents and I know they loved me, and I think they did the best they could with what they had. They both had rough childhoods, so they didn't grow up with the mentality that my generation has, for example.

As a child, whenever I was with my parents, I always had to be accompanied by nannies, because I was afraid they would abandon me. I always had that gut feeling that something wasn't right.

This hunch became more intense during my teenage years. I became a very complicated teenager (more difficult than the average teenager, I think) and was extremely difficult with my parents. I actually mentally distanced myself from them at those times.

Around 2016 - 2017 I started googling the city I was born in to find answers to what my birth was like. Then I discovered that surrogacy was taking place in Louisville, Kentucky in those years.

It was as if I had finally found the last piece of the puzzle. Things went downhill from there and since then my relationship with my parents has not been very good.

She acknowledges that she has had a life that has been materially comfortable, but spiritually painful. Much of the arguments in favor of surrogacy are based on the "irrepressible desire" to have a child and "the ability to give them a good life." What do you have to say from your experience?

-Yes, I had a very, very, comfortable life materially. My parents gave me everything on the material level. In this sense I cannot disagree. But I lacked tender, maternal and paternal love. The fact that parents have financial resources does not mean that they are able to provide a good life for a child. A child, to a certain extent, does not care about money, he cares about the presence of his parents, love, cuddles, kind words.

Honestly, who remembers what gift we got for our fifth birthday? However, we do remember when we had our first breakup and how our parents were supportive or unsupportive.

There is absolutely no right to have a child. People may have irrepressible desires to have a family, and I can understand the heartbreaking situations some families have to go through, but there are other ways to build a family, such as adoption.

A "need" is not a call. Not because we can, we must. Surrogacy is illegal in many countries for a reason, to protect women and children. It is ethically unacceptable to buy a baby and rent a woman's womb.

You are not a believer, but you wrote a letter to Pope Francis weeks ago explaining your story. Why did you do it?

-I did it because I know that Pope Francis is important. His word is listened to by many people, and rightly so, because his speech to diplomats last January 8 went viral on the internet.

Many Christians, Catholics, resort to surrogacy, or become surrogates. I really wanted him to emphasize the fact that he condemns the practice of surrogacy to remind his people that surrogacy is atrocious for babies and women.

Her words may stop some people from resorting to surrogacy or becoming surrogates. Your words may also make people see what surrogacy really is: a new slavery.

Most importantly, however, the Pope called for an international ban on surrogacy, which is exactly what the Casablanca Declaration promotes and seeks to achieve. As a spokesperson for the Casablanca Declaration, I am very proud and happy that such an influential man agrees with our work: an international convention for the abolition of surrogacy.

In Spain, for example, the radio property of the Spanish Episcopal Conference recently invited Ana Obregón, an actress who used the sperm of her deceased son to have a child through surrogacy.

During the interview, they presented surrogacy as something beautiful. As a woman and a mother, I understand their pain, but I have a very different opinion about surrogacy. I am an atheist, but I decided to write a letter to the president of the Bishops of Spain to express my disappointment about this interview, because the Catholic Church is against surrogacy. I have had no reply to my letter, which I find worrying because I do not think it is normal to talk about surrogacy as something great on a Church radio station. I hope that the radio will reiterate the Church's position on surrogacy: that is, that it is against this practice.

Surrogacy has a clear economic profile: vulnerable women and wealthy "fathers".

How can states act politically and socially to prevent this buying and selling of human beings?

-States need to start making surrogacy illegal by enacting tough laws against the use of surrogacy in their own countries, but also laws that prevent people from going abroad and bringing back purchased children. Without this, it will be difficult to completely end surrogacy.

We must protect these vulnerable women. In recent years, there has been an increasing number of reports about celebrities or couples who have resorted to surrogacy.

Do you think there is a campaign to "whitewash" this practice so that citizens come to see it as something normal?

-Yes, I think there is a campaign around the world to make it seem "cool" to resort to surrogacy.

I will take as an example the country where I live, France. Surrogacy is illegal in France, however, in my opinion, we have only seen positive documentaries on TV about this practice. We have not seen people who are against the practice of surrogacy, such as doctors, psychologists, lawyers or even surrogate mothers.

I have only been contacted once by a local newspaper in the South of France, but no major media (television, newspaper). All this is because the French media are in the hands of people in favor of surrogacy, and they want it to be legalized here in France.

So they are making people believe that surrogacy is beautiful and not showing the real side of surrogacy: the buying and selling of children, ripping children from their mothers at birth and renting to vulnerable women.

I hope that I will soon be invited to speak and discuss surrogacy in my own country. In fact, ICAMS (International Coalition for the Abolition of Surrogacy) had submitted a report stating that the French media showed a bias towards surrogacy.

ICAMS demonstrated that during the documentaries on surrogacy on French television, there was never anyone against surrogacy to qualify and balance the sayings of people in favor of surrogacy.

You have become a reference in the fight against surrogacy. What feedback have you received and what do you hope to achieve with this new visibility you have?

-I have received many positive comments from people who would not dare to say they are against surrogacy, perhaps because they are too scared to receive criticism.

People are talking, their eyes are being opened and people are being made aware of the reality of surrogacy. This is very important.

I have also received a lot of negative comments, but the truth is that they don't bother me. I'm always up for a debate. I hope that with this new visibility I have, I can start to really make people understand how negative surrogacy is and how important it is that states unite for the universal abolition of surrogacy. This is what the Casablanca Declaration is trying to achieve and many people are working hard to get an international treaty signed.

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