When “Baby M” celebrates her first birthday this month, it is likely she will still be at the center of a profound debate over whether surrogate motherhood should be outlawed or regulated by law. Her natural father and his wife, William and Elizabeth Stern, agreed to pay a woman $10,000 to conceive and carry the baby to term.
That woman, Mary Beth Whitehead, became pregnant by Stern through artificial insemination. After delivery, she found she could not part with the baby. The custody battle now raging in the Superior Court of New Jersey is expected to set the nation’s first precedent on surrogate contracts—a burgeoning solution to infertility for America’s estimated 10 million infertile couples.
Beyond the intractable legal issues involved in determining where the baby—designated in court papers as “Baby M”—belongs, the case raises important ethical questions. Leading Christian ethicists seriously question the practice of surrogate parenting for a variety of reasons. But to this point, the debate has been dominated by lawyers and entrepreneurs grappling primarily with the technical and pragmatic aspects of the controversy.
The moral deliberation centers on three basic questions: How should society assess the marriage and parent-child relationships? Do surrogate arrangements violate the human dignity and personhood of the surrogate mother? And finally, to what lengths should society go to guarantee parenthood to those who want it?
There is less concern about the toll on relationships when a donor male (out-side the marriage relationship) is the third party. Hiring a surrogate mother represents a quantum leap in third-party participation in reproduction, ...1
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