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Noel Keane, called "father of surrogate parenting'

Published Sep. 30, 2005

Noel Keane, sometimes called the father of surrogate parenting, has died at age 58.

Mr. Keane, a lawyer who arranged the surrogate mother deal that led to the court battle over the child known as Baby M, died Saturday at his Dearborn, Mich., home. He had cancer.

His son and law partner, Christopher, estimated that his father arranged more than 600 surrogate births during his career, starting in 1976.

"There are lives in existence that wouldn't be here without him," said John Hayes, a friend.

The controversial practice reached the national stage with the Baby M case in 1986.

Mr. Keane arranged for surrogate mother Mary Beth Whitehead to carry William Stern's child. But after she gave birth, Whitehead refused to turn the child over to Stern and his wife and sued for custody.

Stern later won custody of the child, but the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled surrogacy illegal and awarded Whitehead visitation rights.

The Baby M case prompted many states, including Michigan, to ban the practice of bearing children for money, which some described as baby brokering for profit.

Mr. Keane's sister, Maureen Keane-Doran, said the criticism hurt him.

"He was a very sensitive, loving guy," she said. "People who had the kids gave him such gratitude that he kept going. He knew what he was doing was right and good."