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Monday, October 13, 2003

Are YOU my Mother?

Have you heard the news from out west? It seems that Utah had, in 1989, effectively outlawed surrogate motherhood, the practice of conceiving a child outside the womb and implanting him into a genetically unrelated woman. You see, in Utah, the woman who gives birth is listed as the mother, and her husband as the father, regardless of the child’s genetic make-up. In order to become legal parents, Utah residents who used a surrogate had to wait for the surrogate to give up parental rights, and then go through the adoption process. Money exchanges were forbidden. That is mostly gone now – Bruce Jenkins, the US District Court Judge, overturned part of the law so genetic parents can be listed as the legal parents on the birth certificate.

For the whole of human history, the law has always recognized the mother who gives birth and her husband as the rightful parents, even if the husband was known not to have fathered the child. But, in our enlightened age, the wisdom of countless generations must defer to the wisdom of the last fifteen minutes.

“[The genetic parents’] fundamental liberty interests in their parental relationship with their children arises from the fact of the biological parent-child relationship, independent of any grant of right, privilege or designation of status by the state," Jenkins wrote. "Even as it is called upon to consider new questions thrust upon it by the advent of new technology, the legislature, no less than the court, must keep the fundamental liberty interests of the people clearly in mind."

Poor Judge Jenkins. He has no idea how bad this will get.

We have allowed technology to divorce sex from procreation. As both contraception users and abortion supporters like to point out, the decision to have sex is not a decision to have a child.

Alright. Let’s take see how they deal with their brave new world. Let's consider a few of the scenarios our new reproductive freedoms provide us.

We’ll consider an easy scenario first. Imagine identical twin brothers, Joseph and Luke. Luke is an in vitro fertilization specialist. Joseph is a ditch-digger. Joseph gets married. He and his wife, Lucy, decide to have a child. Joseph asks Luke, the doctor, to artificially impregnate Lucy. Dr. Luke readily agrees. Joseph gives Dr. Luke, his sperm, Dr. Luke extracts an egg from Joseph’s wife, fertilizes it with sperm, and implants the child into her womb.

Now, here’s the kicker: who is the father of the child? Is it Joseph, the laborer? Why on earth would he be the father?

After all, Dr. Luke is Joseph’s identical twin. That is, Luke used sperm genetically identical to his own to conceive a child and impregnate Lucy, Joseph’s wife. Sure, he isn’t having sex with Lucy, but sex has nothing to do with procreation, remember? Dr. Luke did everything a father does: he conceived a child with sperm identical to his own (indeed, he could have substituted his own sperm: who would know?) and impregnated Lucy.

Wouldn’t that make Dr. Luke responsible for child support? If not, then why is Joseph responsible for child support? Perhaps Joseph changes his mind after he provides the sperm, but Lucy decides to go ahead and have the child anyway. That means he didn’t even choose to have the child. If a woman can change her mind and have an abortion, why can’t a man change his mind and avoid child support, especially when he isn’t the one impregnating his wife? Isn’t Joseph’s financial considerations part of a “fundamental liberty interest” a la Judge Jenkins?

It may seem a puzzler, but today’s sophisticates will undoubtedly figure out a perfectly just and equitable solution one day. But let us cease from considering such childish trifles as this case and move on to something challenging.

Let’s go back to Joseph and his wife, Lucy. They want to have a child, but Joseph is impotent and Lucy is entering menopause. What to do? Well Lucy gets her friend Henny-Penny to donate an egg and they contract for an anonymous sperm donation in order to get the egg fertilized. Because of the menopause problem, Lucy talks another friend, Broody Hen, into being a surrogate. Broody Hen’s husband, Chuck, is fine with it, because he managed to get Joe to cough up $2500 plus medical expenses for the service. So, now we have two genetic parents, the egg donor and the sperm donor, two surrogate parents, and the two parents who finance the whole operation.

But wait. There’s more. If life begins at conception, the lab tech who fertilized the egg can be considered a parent, as can the doctor who performed the implantation procedure. This child has eight parents.

That’s not too bad. It could be worse. What if Joe were cloning his best friend, Jake, who died recently? The number of genetic parents would increase, because we would now take Henny-Penny’s egg, remove its nucleus and replace it with a nucleus from Jake. Cloning allows us to dispense with the anonymous sperm donor, but we must now consider Jake’s parents, retired and living down in Florida, to be genetic parents of the baby being carried by Broody Hen for Lucy and Joe. After all, they were Jake’s parents the first time, weren’t they?

So, for those who prefer to clone, the child has four genetic parents: the egg cell donor, the nucleus donor and the genetic parents of the nucleus donor. He also has four additional non-genetic parents: the gestational mother, her husband, and the rearing parents, that is, the man and woman (or man and man or woman and woman) who commissioned the child’s creation.

And that doesn’t count the lab techs and doctors who actually create the child in the first place. There’s at least ten parents here.

No question of it: family reunions will have to be potluck.

As the above examples demonstrate, our intellectual sophisticates have fooled themselves into thinking we can divorce sex from procreation. Ironically, the very culture that created the fifty percent divorce rate has conveniently “forgotten” how messy the consequences of divorce are.

Poor Judge Jenkins. It’s a pity he didn’t remember his Shakespeare:

Oh, what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practice to deceive.

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