1. Archive

A national answer needed

Four years ago the nation got its first hard look at the ugly aspects of surrogate motherhood, when Mary Beth Whitehead and William Stern and his wife went to court to fight over Baby M. As the battle unfolded, the troubling ethical questions surrounding surrogate motherhood became increasingly clear. So, too, did the obscene nature of such contracts which, in the Sterns' case, included a perfect-baby clause, giving the Sterns the right of refusal if the baby was deformed. The lower court ruled in favor of the Sterns, saying, in effect, that a financial contract took priority over a woman's right to her own child. The New Jersey Supreme Court overturned that decision, accurately labeling the deal baby selling. The justices ruled that surrogate parenting for pay goes against human nature as well as the best interests of society.

The Baby M case clearly illustrated that surrogate motherhood is one area in which technology has grossly outpaced our ability to deal with the ethical and moral dilemmas it raises. Unfortunately, the enlightened stand by the New Jersey Supreme Court affects only New Jersey. And in the three years since that decision, only a few states have developed laws to regulate reproductive technology.

What's needed are national laws that reflect the thoughtful, sensitive stand taken by the New Jersey Supreme Court. But that would take courage _ not one of Congress' strong points.

The same cannot be said for France and Germany. Both countries have outlawed surrogate parenting, citing objections similar to those put forth by the New Jersey justices.

France's highest court recently agreed with the nation's solicitor general that "the human body is not lent out, is not rented out, is not sold." The solicitor general even used the United States as an example of the dangers of surrogate parenting. The court also determined the practice was "a subversion of the institution of adoption."

A number of surrogate parenting disputes, overloaded with tragedy and ugly accusations, have made their way into courtrooms across the country since the Baby M case. How many more will it take until Congress and the Supreme Court acknowledge that no amount of technology can make baby selling right?