In Surrogacy, A Deal is Not Always a Deal

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
July 23 2009 4:00 PM

In Surrogacy, A Deal is Not Always a Deal

/blogs/xx_factor/2009/07/23/revisting_the_baby_m_case_in_the_era_of_debby_rowe/jcr:content/body/slate_image

Thanks to Kerry for linking to her compelling personal story of the ovum marketplace . As for the question of market forces bearing on gestational surrogacy sticker price , I have two words to illustrate the right circumstance for the right seller: Debby Rowe . $4 million payoffs not withstanding, however, I do sympathize with Kerry ’s and Sarah ’s observations on the hazy protection surrogacy contracts offer to potentially exploited owners of host wombs.

Advertisement

I remember well the first major legal case exploring rights of the surrogate involved a contract gone awry (in the opposite way of the urban legendary wealthy gay man of Nina’s classic six , were he to renege on the apartment after the baby is born). In that famous 1986 case, the surrogate, Mary Beth Whitehead, made a deal with William Stern to donate her egg and rent her womb to create a child with Stern, by artificial insemination, to be raised by Stern and his wife. Whitehead changed her mind when the little girl was born but what persuaded the New Jersey judge who eventually decided for the Sterns was the contract itself. A deal’s a deal was the thinking. When Whitehead appealed, the contract was disallowed as against public policy . Whitehead was allowed visiting privileges, but the Sterns nevertheless retained custody "in the best interests of the child" (referred to as "Baby M" in all the papers).  When Baby M turned 18, she terminated her genetic mother’s rights and was adopted by Stern’s wife. Big surprise, she stuck with the parents who raised her . In 2007, with a bit of a swipe at poor Mary Beth, the former Baby M, Melissa Stern, a student at George Washington University commented to the New Jersey Monthly , "I'm very happy I ended up with them. I love them, they're my best friends in the whole world, and that's all I have to say about it."

I always felt Mary Beth had been a bit out gunned although, I have to admit, I felt less sorry for her after she wrote a book about her case and then sold it for a TV movie .

Photograph by Stockbyte/Getty Images.