But wait! Of course there is a way out. One of the fathers is Brad Holyman, state senator from Manhattan, and he is co-sponsor of a bill that would overturn the current law and make it legal to pay a surrogate in New York to carry a baby for you. The bill's sponsors argue that it makes no sense for New York, with both a large number of fertility clinics as well as gays seeking their services, not to be able to offer "commercial surrogacy" to those who want it, and can afford to pay for it. Why let places like California have all the benefits of hiring wombs?
Okay, I'm being snide. But that is what "commercial surrogacy" is all about--hiring a woman to carry an implanted egg (usually from a third party) to gestation and birth. It is a thriving business in places like India. The cost can be prohibitive to most. An egg (depending on college attended, looks, and other credentials and qualities) can cost between $8,000 to $10,000 and up to $25,000 for say, eggs from a comely young woman at an Ivy college; the surrogacy fee is around $30,000; add in legal, medical and agency fees, and a no-frills contract can cost between $75,000 to $120,000. Holyman says that if it could be legal in New York, the cost would go down, and more people could have babies. Margaret Atwood's chilling Handmaid's Tale is mentioned, and how surrogacy lends itself to unnatural social engineering and the subjugation of women, and how that led to the unusual alliance of feminists, civil libertarians and the Catholic church opposing the creation of children via surrogacy.
WHEN THE DOCTOR ASKS FOR A MEDICAL HISTORY
I'm reading the piece looking for when the writer, Anemona Hartocollis, will talk about the child being able to know her mother (whence came the egg?) or not. Or if that was anonymous after she filled certain criteria. Or if the couple has thought about the myriad issues of child of iffy biological parentage will face when she grows up and deals with oh, medical history every time she goes to the doctor all her life. Will she have to say, Well, this is what I know from when my egg donor was 20. Since then, I have no additional information.
The story does say both men contributed sperm and they did not want to know who won the conception lottery. So, again what do they do at the doctor's when a medical history is asked for? Write down both men's and say, Doc, it's a 50-50 chance you will pick the right parent? (From the photograph, I'd hazard a guess that Holyman is that biological father.) Common sense alone should dictate that they need to know--for Sylvia's own medical history--whose DNA she is carrying. If some doctor hasn't told them this already, I'd be surprised.
Alas, there is no mention of whether the egg out of which Sylvia grew was anonymous, or of the many issues involved in not knowing your biological background, ancestry and history. I think of a friend of mine who is a descendant of Thomas Jefferson, a third or fourth generation West Point graduate whose son, at 12, already knows he wants to go to West Point. I think about how my husband Tony likes to mention that he is a descendant of Rebecca Nurse, who was executed for witchcraft in 1692 at Salem. I think of enjoying knowing my grandfather was a palace guard at St. Petersburg before the revolution. I remember my daughter Jane, in time, wanting to know about my aunts and uncles and grandparents, and how she was thrilled to get three gold rings I gave her that had once belonged to my mother--her grandmother. I remember how my granddaughter wanted more than anything else to find those rings when her mother, my daughter, died. She said she cared about them more than anything else Jane might have left her. I think about all these things and wonder how much Sylvia will know. In truth, I wonder about this every time I hear of someone who had a child with the sperm or egg of an unknown: how much is that child going to be able to know? If you think about anything beyond the immediate joy and fulfillment of the parents, your thoughts go there.
Although the piece doesn't mention this, Brad Holyman is a co-sponsor of our bill in the state senate (A2490) that would unseal the birth records of the adopted in New York, and so I know he has grappled on some level with these issues. I want to think that his daughter will have access to the true identity she will need when she grows up. The piece does mention that Helene Weinstein, assembly member and possibly our most powerful opponent, was behind the bill barring commercial surrogacy in New York, but now says it may be time to "reconsider" the law.
WHOSE BIRTH CERTIFICATE IS IT ANYWAY?
When I am left wondering, will Helene Weinstein think it is time to reconsider her staunch opposition to adoptee rights? Not that we are aware of. She continues to cling to the supposed "rights" of birth mothers to stay anonymous from their children. When one of the judges at the public hearing last month was going on about how the birth mother is co-owner of the original birth certificate, someone did point out that keeping the record sealed for her sake gave her more than equal power over it. In other words, if the adoptee and birth mother are co-owners (a ridiculous conceit) of an individual's birth certificate, why does the mother's supposed right to privacy now control its release? That went unanswered.
The only (and obvious) reason that a child who is adopted does not grow up knowing who his mother is--mother and child were both there, right?--is because he was too young to understand that he needed to keep track of her, to young to write down her name. And then the state yanked away that natural and inviolate right simply because it could. It wasn't done to protect the birth mothers; it was done for the satisfaction of the adoptive parents--not mother, not child. Birth parent and child must be considered co-owners of the information regarding the event of birth, or we will continue to have created a two-tier society: those who have that right, and those who do not. Sadly, except in a handful of states, that is where we are today.--lorraine
Addendum: The Times piece does go on to say that the notoriety of the Baby M case in nearby New Jersey led to a court ruling on the validity of a surrogate-mother contract. Mary Beth Whitehead was a young mother (a proven brood mare) married to a sanitation worker who agreed to have a child (her egg as well as womb) for an infertile couple. Once the baby was born, Mary Beth did not want to give her up and fought for custody. On appeal the New Jersey Supreme Court restored her parental rights but gave custody of Melissa to the biological father, William Stern, and his wife. According to Wikipedia, the original judge in the Baby M case, Harvey M. Sorkow, presided over the Tarrytown, New York wedding of Melissa and a neuroscientist. They live in London and she goes by the name Melissa Clements.
Other states with the "harshest surrogacy laws" according to the Times story are Arizona, Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska, and the District of Columbia.
And Surrogacy Makes 3
Lethal Secrets by Annette Baran and Reuben Pannor
"The psychology of donor insemination presents both problems and solutions. In the world of alternative means of conception, donor insemination is the parent procedure, the most available, successful and egalitarian. Breaking the bonds of silence and ending secrecy is necessary, the authors believe, to address the inherent psyhchological problems. As the world continues headlong down the road of high-tech procedures and methodologies, there is a need to maintain a strong sense of importance of the human element and historical, genetic connections."--Amazon
Sacred bond : the legacy of Baby M by Phyllis Chesler
"Chesler (Women and Madness, etc.) here emotionally addresses grave questions arising from the widely publicized struggle for custody of Baby M. Mary Beth Whitehead agreed to bear the child, in 1985, as a surrogate mother for Betsy and William Stern, but refused to give up the baby, thus precipitating lawsuits and national debate over parental rights. The author, a psychotherapist and feminist who publicly spoke in favor of Whitehead and organized a campaign against surrogacy, describes her involvement and the support of women's-rights activists in a book that is, unfortunately, so intemperate as to dilute the vital issues raised. She describes the women who attended the birth mother's trial as "blood-thirsty, pro-male, pro-middle class," Whitehead as "condemned and tormented" like a "character in a soap opera." Much relevance is buried under Chesler's vehement accusations against a woman-hating society that regards a surrogate as a "womb for hire." Nevertheless, the book serves to alert the public to the moral and social considerations of surrogacy. Appended are court briefs, verdicts and the Stern/Whitehead parenting contract."--Amazon
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