' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Genetic mother denied visitation with son conceived in vitro

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Genetic mother denied visitation with son conceived in vitro

Jordan Schnitzer, father of the year. NOT. 
Jordan Schnitzer wanted a son without the bother of a mother. After two attempts using "donated" eggs, Schnitzer, 65, the divorced father of two teenage daughters turned to his 37-year-old girlfriend Cory Sause. She happened to have some eggs frozen just in case... and she agreed to share them with Schnitzer. After a surrogate became pregnant from Schnitzer's/Sause's embryo/DNA, their relationship soured.

Their son was born in December and they are now embroiled in litigation on whether egg mother Sause can have visitation with her biological son. Schnitzer's position is absolute: He is the sole and exclusive parent. His name alone is on the birth certificate. Biology be damned.

Cory Sause
Schnitzer's attorney--who practiced real estate law, not family law--had sent Sause an agreement whereby Schnitzer relinquished any claim to female embryos and any resulting offspring. It also provided that Sause renounced rights to any male embryo, but did not require her to relinquish any claim to male offspring. Sause signed the agreement and returned it to the attorney. Sause claims that the agreement gives Schnitzer custody, but allows her visitation. One problem is that Schnitzer never signed the agreement. Another is that Sause signed a boilerplate "informed consent and embryo transfer agreement" provided by the middle-man, in this case, the Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU).

After the baby was born, Sause expressed the desire to have contact with him.
Schnitzer filed a lawsuit asking the judge to declare him the sole and exclusive parent of the child. In March, the judge agreed with Schnitzer. Last week, another judge denied Sause's request for a re-hearing. Sause has vowed to appeal. If she were to win and the appellate court were to hold that a child is not a mere commodity whose relationships are governed by contract law, the case could impact all such agreements between the genetic parents--mother or father--and the right to have a relationship with their children.

Sause's attorney is Thomas McDermott, who represented the outside parties in the case to uphold Ballot Measure 58 in Oregon, which gave adult adoptees the right to their original birth certificates. McDermott is an adoptive father who understands the need--and right--of all to learn their biological origins. After the court hearing, McDermott said "Ms. Sause is deeply disappointed...and will continue to fight for her son to know that she is his mother and she cares for him."

Schnitzer, a real estate developer, is the son and sole child of one of Oregon's most wealthy and prominent couples, Arlene and the late Harold Schnitzer. He and his parents are also well known for their philanthropy, donating millions to the arts, education, Jewish causes, museums, medical research. Schnitzer divorced his wife, the mother of his daughters, in 2005. Sause also hails from a prominent, wealthy family. Both are law school graduates.

 Schnitzer desired a son to carry on the family name. Because "being a divorced dad was was complicated," he wanted to have this son without "complications." Schnitzer says he, his daughters, and his mother look forward to raising his son "in a healthy, loving family relationship." Schnitzer's mother Arlene is 87. Schnitzer will be in his 80's when Baby S. graduates from high school. Thus the actual raising of the boy may well be left to his daughters, who Schnitzer is shunting aside in favor of a male heir.

Stories of reunions with mothers
This case is appalling on so may levels it's hard to know where to begin. If Schmitzer and Sause had had their son the natural way, Oregon law would require that custody and visitation be resolved by a determination of the "best interests of the child," not by agreements made prior to conception. While Schnitzer may have gotten custody, Sause would have been allowed visitation unless a court found her unfit. Prior to the advent of "assisted reproduction," law-makers presumed that natural parents had an absolute right to their offspring unless they were unfit, and that the best for children would be to know both natural parents.

That thinking changed when it came to accommodating those who could not have biological children or who, as in Schnitzer's case, desired a specific type of child. This shift in the law also appeased the fertility industry, as their customers were the adults desiring embryos to be created in the laboratory. Law-makers cast aside long held assumptions about children and their parents, and passed laws that treated children as objects in a contract, not human beings with wishes and desires possibly separate from the parents.

Since the judges did not ask essential questions leading to a determination of what's best for the child, we'll ask them here. How will Baby S. feel about not being able to know his genetic mother? What will Schnitzer (or his daughters if he is no longer alive) tell Baby S. when he asks who his mother is and why he can't meet her?  The truthful explanation that his father paid for him and won him fair and square will certainly ring hollow to his ears.

As a practical matter, when Baby S. is old enough to access the internet, he will learn of his parents' public fight. Will he wonder what kind of man would use his wealth and power to deprive a son of his mother, and a mother from her son?

According to press reports, Schnitzer is proud that his son looks almost identical to pictures of him when he was a baby. But Baby S. is not a clone. What if Baby S. does not share his father's interest in business or the arts? What if he decides to change his name? finding that carrying the baggage of the Schnitzer name too great. Or, for that matter, what if he decides to change his gender? Will he still have a healthy, loving family?

We note that the agreement OHSU had Sause sign is a standard one used in all cases of donated eggs or sperm. Donors are entitled to remain anonymous and children are not entitled to know where their DNA came from. We do not agree with this practice.

Schnitzer's desire for a son after two daughters reminds us that paternalism and male privilege is alive and well. Did Schnitzer give any consideration to how his daughters might feel knowing that they weren't enough for their father? That a boy child was preferable? If Baby S. turns his back on the family business, will Schnitzer allow his daughters to take over?  His late father, Harold, had four brothers so surely there are male cousins with the surname of Schnitzer in the wings.

It's also troubling that OHSU's agreed to be part of a process for the sole purpose of creating a male child, using 21st Century technology to re-enforce ancient biases. "Sex selection raises concerns about exacerbating sex discrimination and violence against women and normalizing the 'selection' and 'design' of children."* While sex selection is not a big problem in the US as far as we know, it's a huge problem in India, China, and other countries where the male/female balance is so off kilter, as to cause major social problems. OHSU as a public university should not be a part of it.

Schnitzer's story reminds us of other instances where prominent, wealthy men insisted on a male offspring. Things did not turn out as planned. Henry VIII defied the Pope so he could divorce his wife and marry a woman to bear him a son. When she didn't, he had her beheaded and took another wife who did give him a male heir. The son, Edward VI, died young and was succeed by his older half sisters, first Mary, and then Elizabeth I. She proved to be one of England's greatest monarchs.

The Brits have finally figured out that primogenitor, the practice of leaving property and titles to the oldest son is wrong. In 2013 when Princess Kate and Prince William were expecting their first child, Parliament passed a law providing that their first born would ascend to the throne, even if she was a girl and had a younger brother.

Russia's last Tsar Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra were so anxious for a son after four daughters that they turned to a mystical faith healer, Rasputin. After the desired son turned out to have hemophilia, the Tsar and his wife turned again to Rasputin whose presence and influence played a role in the increasing unpopularity of the Tsar. We know how that turned out: the whole family was executed.

As they say, be careful what you wish for.--jane

Portland developer Jordan Schnitzer wins case to raise baby without genetic mother
Jordan Schnitzer Gets a Son--and a Court Battle
Legacy of Portland's Harold Schnitzer
*Center fror Genetics and Society: About Sex Selection
I Want To Put a Baby in You: The Schnitzer case--Taking Sex Selection to a Whole Other Level
Royal baby girl's right of succession

From FMF:
Egg 'donor' and child unite on Katie
Would-be Egg 'Donor'  imagines a child growing up with genetic strangers

Shadow Mothers:Stories of Adoption and Reunion
By Linda Back McKay
Written in an easy style that allows the reader to identify with each mother as their individual recounts unfold on the pages, McKay has opened up the sealed emotions belonging not only to the individuals who tell their stories of reconnecting with their adopted children, but also in the reader. It is a heartfelt collection of pain, hope, joy, and finally, peace. A must-read for any woman who has given up a child for adoption and also for anyone who has adopted a child.--Amazon reviewer 

Remember: Support First Mother Forum. Order ANYTHING from Amazon but through our portals.Click on book jacket or title to get there! 


  1. Yes, this is an appalling and sad story. Hopefully some good will come out of it if the mother is granted visitation.

    I would like to comment on one item, "The agreement OSHU had Sause sign is a standard one used in all cases of donated eggs or sperm. Donors are entitled to remain anonymous and children are not entitled to know where there DNA came from."

    Anybody using such a contract may as well throw it in the trash. At the present level of knowledge, it is possible to find a relative using DNA testing and specific research methods which can reveal even a sperm donor or egg donor. I am aware of adoptees who have done exactly that starting with almost no information.

    Mr. Schnitzer's son doesn't have to resort to that, though, since the mother is known. Add to that the surrogate's feelings, and you have the opportunity for a real mess in that family, depending on what the child wants to do.

  2. "Donors are entitled to remain anonymous and children are not entitled to know where their DNA came from."

    Wow! According to this wrongheaded thinking, children are pieces of property, trinkets, status symbols, a prize to be claimed fairly or not. Children are not human beings with their own thoughts, desires, feelings, needs. Children are objects to be bought by, sold or traded to, or snatched up, taken, or stolen by the highest bidder or humanly defined "better" people. Moral? Ethical? Fair? Just? Right? Is there even a drop of simple decency in this process? Is it reasonable? I think it is not.

    It seems the only "accepted" definition of parent now, especially by the entitled /"I'm better than, worth more than you" bunch and their cronies, is a document showing ownership. You have to have legal (I didn't say ethical) title to said piece of property /child. Sad!

    Can you imagine the son asking, "where.." or "who is my mother?" and being told, "Son you don't have a mother. You never had a mother." WHAT!? Ok, sole progenitor pops, guess that means I don't have to take biology in school right? Cause you and yours have rewritten ALL the rules and made them what YOU *need* them to be.

    I would love to see all important information (medical esp.) and documents withheld from these folks (for a time) that refuse to allow children to know their creators. Their mother and father. See if that might bring home the point about how much it matters to the sons and daughters and their descendants! Maybe then they could see how much anguish they are causing for these (adult)children.

    This is what happens when a society throws God out of their thinking and /or tries to circumvent Him. The diversion of 'global warming /climate change' is just that, a diversion. A distraction from the reality. The truth, the thing to really be concerned about, is there is a global cooling. The "love of many growing cold". Love is following the laws and rules that benefit us all that our Creator made for us. This sick, downward spiral into decay continues because we human beings think we have 'better answers /solutions' than God. We don't. Some reject completely that we have a Creator, a Supreme Law and life giver at all. Makes it easier to play god when one denies that a Supreme God exists.

    It would be a beautiful thing to see all of us humans choose to learn how to and do the right things, the right way, *now* before this world nearly self destructs. No, it's not easy. The easy way leads to destruction, and this world has become pretty proficient at destruction. Whether it's the family, or resources, or other human beings. We should really stop this.

  3. seems to me like he doesn't even really want a son, he wants a clone so he can live again.

  4. "The Brits have finally figured out that primogenitor, the practice of leaving property and titles to the oldest son is wrong."

    Not entirely true. One of Britain's wealthiest men, the Duke of Westminster, died unexpectedly earlier this month. The overwhelming bulk of his estate, his title, the family home, land, etcetera, passed to his third child and only son. The young man's two older sisters and one younger sister were left with substantial trusts. Before a law change in the 1930s, the girls would have gotten nothing. But the son, solely because he is male, inherited almost everything.

    It is alarming to see the latest technology being used in the United States in the 21st century to continue to support male privilege. I see many, many pitfalls for this family, as you have so clearly documented in this piece. Another example of how our culture keeps moving in the direction of " the connection to one's biological parents doesn't matter. All that matters is love."

  5. This really sucks--I mean, it's beyond wrong. And not only is it wrong to the boy and to his mother, and to his older half-sisters, but it is a long reactionary step back from the relatively progressive attitudes one expects in Oregon and its Jewish community.

  6. This is certainly one of the most morally questionable and repulsive uses of assisted reproduction I have heard of. Money may talk, but where was ethics in any of this? The technology may be new but the attitude is ancient, reactionary, and patriarchal. Women and children are devalued as objects to be manipulated by men, bought, sold, owned and discarded at his whim.

    Sad to say Henry the 8th and a long line of Patriarchal Pricks live on in the attitudes portrayed by Mr. Schnitzer. Why not just have one of his already existing daughters keep her maiden name? Given the kind of father he seems, maybe she is all too glad to be rid of that name.

  7. The moral and personal repugnance I feel for the two adults in this story is that of a total physical gag reflex, sense of being filthy and unable to wash off the stench. These people are disgusting. First, the mother, knowing this man (she was his "friend" after all) was well aware that the father is a total egotistical a**hat and unfit to care for a cockroach much less a human or even a puppy. She agreed to this atrocity, even though the man was obviously shopping for his "male immortality" in a son that he could force to be another him - obvious by his instant decision to give up any girl babies that "accidently" happened. To her I give my eternal disgust. Also, please note that more than one egg was fertilized (that is standard procedure) - what happened to the rest of the fertile eggs?

    To the father - I have one thought - he must honestly think a lot of himself to think that his efforts are going to somehow net him immortality. And frankly, it is obvious that he is a misogynistic jerk - or he would not be wanting to try to raise a child alone - but only a "male" child.

    To the judge that stated that the father basically owns the human being that resulted from this idiocy, I have a thought.... what are you going to do when that "child" becomes an adult and, if the father is as big a jerk as he appears to be, is not "normal" and does the things that seem to follow the rich, entitled, self-loathers that feel that women have no value? Are you going to accept responsibility for his being like the little rapist swimmer? or maybe the brothers that murdered their parents so long ago that made people wonder WTF?

    I am curious to know when this kind of idiocy is going to be called what it is - the woman sold her eggs (potential human beings) to the man - and now they are fighting over property rights. Hmmmm? Because this is becoming more and more common.

  8. This is so upsetting to read for so many reasons. As someone unable to have children who for the longest time desired to have a son, I would jump for joy if I was able to have one girl let alone two girls. There are genuine people out there in need of reproductive Medicine yet you have people like this that take advantage of the system. The children in these families deserve better. Life is never exactly what we want it to be. We have to make the best of what we are handed.

    1. Excuse me, who is the "you" you are referring to? We are against creating children like this.

    2. Seems to be either a national you, "You have(in your country)" or a generic you, in which case you have is another way to say "there are", which was an expression already used in the very same sentence, and thus the more probable meaning.

  9. It's not fair to say that Mr. Schnitzer prizes males over females. He has two daughters. We ALL know people who, having three boys, would love to have a girl. Such "priorities" are very common among so-called "normal" couples and "normal" single parents. Whatever you think of his crusade here, or his excising Ms. Sause, he has never said or implied that males are "better" than females. He idolizes his mother and loves his daughters. His daughters don't feel sidelined or discounted. He isn't eliminating Sause because she is female but because he wants to be the only parent (he would feel the same if Sause were a man). I am not making any judgments about the morality or ethics of it, I'm only saying that if his first two children had been males and he wanted a girl, I don't know if people would be screeching that he values females over people with Y chromosomes. And....if Sause had chosen to use the other embryos, she might now have a daughter or two, and Schnitzer would not interfere; that was their agreement. It was a business agreement. Surrogacy and adoption have always been business arrangements. The habitues of this forum I am sure find that abhorrent, but it is so. Sause is the same as someone who gave up a child for adoption and relinquished all rights. I feel very sad for her (though I wince that she killed someone a dozen years ago), and I'm no fan of Jordan's, but it seems the legality of the agreement is solid.

    1. Jordan said he wanted a SON to carry on his name. Thus, if he had had two sons instead of two daughters, it is doubtful that he would have gone to the expense and bother of egg "donation" and surrogacy to get a daughter. Of course, his daughters could have children and give them the Schnitzer name. It's not rare today for women to keep their maiden names and give at least one of their children their maiden name as a last name. Obviously, having a daughter pass on his name wasn't good enough for Schnitzer.

      Yes, it was a business deal. It is not only the habitues of this forum but all right thinking people who find treating children as a commodity in a business deal abhorrent. We hope for Samuel's sake, that an appellate court finds it abhorrent as well.

      As far as the comparison to adoption -- domestic adoptions today are open to some degree unless there is a risk of harm to the child. Adoptions are open because experience has taught the industry that children do better in open adoptions. Unlike surrogacy, adoption is not designed to be a business deal. It is supposed to be about finding a family for a child who needs one. Granted, the adoption industry manipulates vulnerable young women who could raise their children into giving them up to families who want them. This is shameful.

      Since you may know Jordan, you might ask him how he will explain to Samuel he purposefully cut off his mother who wanted nothing more than to tell him she loved him.

    2. Let me add that the only other situation where a human being is treated as property to be bartered away is slavery.

    3. EXACTLY! There is NO defense for this - you can make excuses, but this is what people have feared would happen for a long time. Choosing sex, looks, etc., and then purchasing the "perfect" child from labs.... I don't care for either of these people and wonder what kind of monster thinks this is okay.

    4. Anon, I don't doubt that Schnitzer loves his mother and sisters; that, however, does not mean that he doesn't believe in male superiority. He's a chauvinist, not a misogynist.

  10. One would think that, as in the case of adoption, there should be a period of time before relinquishment can be finalized after birth though I do note that there is no specified time frame in Oregon law. This case illicits all the horrors that were imagined 20 years ago when it was becoming abundantly clear that technology would make contracted births a reality. Unfortunately, as with most things Americans do, technological advance precedes any ethical considerations written into law. Didn't we learn anything from Nuremburg Trials? The horse is out of the barn, so to speak, and now we have some heavy back peddling to do.

  11. One thing nobody has brought up in this thread is the fate of the surrogate. I have deep concerns about women being exploited for their wombs. And I doubt that the surrogate has moved on as easily as many in our society would like to believe she has.

  12. Steve--I've often wondered how much being a surrogate changes women. Since it is not their genetic material, they may feel less of a connection to the child but....certainly their bodies produces oxytocin (the love hormone released at birth in women) which tells them to love and protect their babies. Then what? Does $15,000 erase all yearnings? I'd love to hear from some of them.

    And what about the women who simply sell their eggs--the Harvard etc. women who need money for tuition, etc? Now that's a conundrum. Do they feel as little as most men who donate sperm seem to? Are they curious? Does the gratitude of the buyer override any genetic concerns?

    1. My guess is that, at least in the short term, the $$$ overrides any genetic or other concerns.

    2. Lorraine, I agree it is a complicated question. My perspective is that the surrogate is the birth mother, if not the biological mother. I am sure that for some women it is easier to part with the child if it is not biologically theirs. But it is still a product of their flesh and blood, even if it is not actually their flesh and blood.

      I am sure you remember the story of Allison Quets, who lost her twin children to the coerced adoption to end all coerced adoptions. The woman was deathly ill and had previously told the PAPs--in writing--to leave her alone. Florida didn't care, and the judge was absolutely scornful of her, smearing her in a truly hateful and personal way. She spent 400k, her life savings, trying to get her children back. It seems that her life was ruined. And Allison was not the biological mother, she received donor sperm and donor eggs.

      I heard that Thailand reformed its surrogacy laws in response to the case where bio-parents from Australia turned down one of their twins because he was disabled. They took the other one home.

      India is still a nightmare for surrogates, the last I heard. I am horrified by stories about what these women go through.

      I am not sure about egg donors. Maybe some women feel a stronger connection then the average male sperm donor. It is hard to do quality research on this question because we usually don't even know who to ask.

      I would argue that this child, for better or worse, has two legitimate mothers. He should be allowed to know both of them, if that is what he wants. In the era of social media it will be impossible for the father to keep them from him by the time he is 12 or 13.

      And shame on him for wanting to.



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