You can’t fool Mother Nature.
Melissa Cook thought she could. She had what she thought was a smart business arrangement: By renting out her body as a surrogate mother, the 47-year-old mother of four could earn good money. A contract that pays $27,000 (plus a $6,000 bonus if more than one baby is carried) for nine months of minor inconvenience followed by just a few hours of hard labor is attractive in a tough job market. Since she is separated from her husband, she needed the money.
It seemed like a good deal—until her humanity asserted itself.
Cook never met C. M., the 50-year-old single postal worker in Georgia whose baby she had contracted to carry. Three embryos, created by fertilizing eggs donated by a younger woman with C.M.’s sperm, were implanted in Cook’s womb in an IVF procedure last year. At that time both Cook and C.M. understood that more than one of the embryos might successfully develop. In fact, all three did.
The problem came when C. M. decided three babies were too many. Claiming he had depleted his life savings—on infertility doctors, the surrogacy broker, egg donor fees, gender selection fees (he wanted only male embryos), in vitro fertilization fees, legal fees, and the fee promised to Cook—he ordered her to “reduce” the pregnancy and abort one of the babies.
Cook refused. She even offered to adopt the “extra” baby after birth.
M. refused her offer. Now he claims the contract is void. Since he didn’t get what he ordered, he doesn’t want to pay.
Hello, ancient Rome. A baby wasn’t a baby there until the father approved of it. If a father didn’t accept a baby, she would be exposed on a mountainside and become dinner for a wolf.
Hello, modern California, where Cook lives. This most progressive of states has surrogacy laws made to order for men like C. M. The surrogate mother has no rights under the state’s law. The baby—or babies—in her womb is the property of whomever hired her, and can be disposed of as the buyer wishes.
Thus, when the three babies were born last month, seven weeks prematurely, Cook was not even allowed to see them. Nor has she been allowed to enquire after their welfare, since she is not legally related to them.
A story like this is manna from heaven for the tabloids around the world, and they are making the most of it.
More thoughtful media should ponder it as well, because the issues at stake are grave. Cook’s case is likely to initiate a cascade of dismal events.
Surrogacy is illegal in most of Europe and in Canada. At the moment, it’s explicitly legal in eight states, and explicitly illegal in only five jurisdictions: New York, New Jersey, Washington, Michigan, and the District of Columbia.
But that is going to change soon. Enshrining surrogacy in the law is a top priority of the powerful gay rights lobby. It has to be, because how else can the propagation of one’s own genes be accomplished if one does not have congress with the opposite gender?
Every step of the surrogacy process is accomplished by manipulation: the harvesting of the sperm, the purchasing and harvesting of the donor’s eggs, the fertilization in a petri dish, the selection of embryos according to desired genome, the implantation of strangers’ embryos in a rented womb.
Every step of the process violates the deepest lodes of human nature. Except for this: The ability of Cook’s body to welcome and bond with the embryos was fully in accordance with nature.
Women are hard-wired to love the baby who kicks in their womb. That’s how the survival of the species is ensured.
It’s why the self-sacrifice of birth mothers who make adoption plans for their babies is beyond heroic. Why adoption is so very painful, even when it is in the best interest of the child. And why adoption policy is so hotly contested: After all, the adoption agency gets to choose who shall have a child and who shan’t.
No respectable adoption agency would have awarded three male infants to a 50-year-old deaf postal worker who lives with his elderly parents without first establishing his fitness to parent them. Yet C. M. was able to order up embryos according to his specifications with no questions asked.
Our materialistic age can still understand that buying babies is “bad,” even if it cannot understand what’s wrong with manufacturing them to order; it can still grasp that profiting from their manufacture is “bad,” even though it cannot understand the meaning of “human dignity.”
Now the wheels of the judicial process have been set in motion by Cook’s refusal to abort one of C. M.’s babies—both state and federal cases have been filed. Next, the legislative process will rouse itself.
Since no one now dare deny the right of any adult to complete self-fulfillment, and no one dare deny the use of any technology in pursuit of self-gratification, the ultimate terrible conclusion will be not the banning of unnatural conceptions, but the insertion of bureaucrats into the process of all conceptions.
Law journals have long been exploring the topic of mandatory licensing of parents. For decades the idea has been swelling like a pod of insects, silently gestating out of sight.
The Melissa Cook case may be the proximate cause of its unleashing.
Two or three decades hence, when bureaucrats are charged with issuing pregnancy licenses, this case will be in the genealogy of their legal authority.
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Connie Marshner is a commentator and researcher on life and family issues in the Washington, D.C., area.