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An absurd decision

It didn't take a surrogacy opponent to figure out that something wasn't right about men presuming to decide whether a California woman bonded with the baby she bore if it grew from another couple's fertilized egg. "Altruism aside, there's nothing wrong with getting paid for nine months of what I understand to be a lot of misery and a lot of bad days," declared Judge Richard Parslow in denying Anna Johnson any parental rights to the child.

Crowed the baby's court-appointed (male) legal guardian: "The first thing I'm going to do is put this baby's name on a birth certificate."

And this from the baby's genetic father to reporters: "The only bonding Anna Johnson has is with your television cameras."

Such insensitivity is a stark reminder of how crassly impersonal the surrogacy arrangement was: How dare she allow her human emotions to intrude on all these tidy assumptions that her breeder services are a commodity to be purchased?

No easy decisions are possible in such a case, but the judge erred badly by sweepingly embracing such contracts. Johnson's lack of a "genetic" link to the egg implanted in her womb was an interesting precedent, but common sense should have prevailed over scientific jargon: This was a baby with three parents. There is nothing in the whole of human experience to suggest that a woman can bear a child that is "not hers" _ with the possible exception of human chattel slavery.

Unfortunately, we can expect many more heartbreaking cases unless Congress musters the courage to rein in the surrogacy industry with national laws. Until it does, some states such as Florida will try to deal with the sad lag between scientific advances and scientific ethics, and others such as California will stall.

Perhaps Germany's recent decision to outlaw surrogate motherhood will encourage Congress to act. Or must we, like they, also wait for tragedy to teach us the dangers of genetic engineering?

Contractual surrogacy smacks of something so inherently ugly that the state should outlaw it. Why sanction the notion that profiteers may procure needy women's bodies for breeding purposes, and use the state to force them to hand over the goods?

It's understandable that some couples have a strong desire for a genetic link to their child, but science and business should not have a free hand in catering to that need.

Sad though it can be, infertility is not the end of the world; there are far worse tragedies, as there are many children who need adopting if we can somehow separate the vanity from our true need to give love.

The Germans perhaps went too far in attempting to banish virtually the whole burgeoning field of genetic engineering, but they have the right idea about human surrogacy. "Man is not God," declared one official in defending the law, and he is right. Just because we can do something doesn't mean that we should, and the dangers of applying this technology to humans demands that nations summon the courage to deal with it.