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Texas case highlights surrogacy pitfalls

Family | Some experts argue the process commodifies women and children, and should be illegal
by Kiley Crossland
Posted 1/12/18, 02:23 pm

The case of a little boy born in Texas last month exemplifies the human rights abuses that can happen with surrogacy, a growing business in the United States.

In early 2017, two adults hired a Texas woman as a gestational surrogate—a woman who carries an embryo not genetically related to her. It was the woman’s third time as a surrogate. Despite widespread media reports about the case and the involvement of local prosecutors, the surrogate and the parents have remained anonymous.

At a routine appointment 16 weeks into her pregnancy, the surrogate’s doctor noticed an abnormality in the unborn baby’s heart, and referred the woman to a specialist, according to WFAA-TV in Dallas. After an examination, the specialist told her the baby had hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS), a birth defect that causes the left side of the heart to be critically underdeveloped. The baby would need heart surgery three to four days after birth, followed by two more operations later in childhood, but could go on to lead a relatively normal life.

When the surrogate informed the intended parents about the baby’s condition, they demanded she get an abortion.

“I was completely in shock. I truly didn’t have the slightest idea that would be asked of me,” the surrogate told WFAA. She said during the interview process the parents told her they opposed abortion. “I expected they would want to me to carry to term and treat the child. I expected we were all on the same page. I had no idea how much my life would change just a short 36 hours later.”

The surrogate refused to abort, and the parents stopped paying for her medical costs. As her due date approached, she began to worry whether the parents would allow the baby to have the life-saving surgery after birth. Surrogates by contract have no rights once a baby is born—in most cases, they are not allowed to see the baby after birth. The parents remained silent.

In the days leading up to delivery, the surrogate hired attorneys and contacted city and state agencies, hoping to advocate for the life of the baby she carried.

Doctors delivered the baby boy by cesarean section on Dec. 21 at Medical City Dallas Hospital. On Dec. 22, the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office confirmed the intended parents had agreed to do anything necessary to keep their baby alive and healthy. It is unclear whether the parents will keep the little boy or put him up for adoption.

The case has prompted calls for Texas to reevaluate its surrogacy laws.

But some experts argue regulating surrogacy is like trying to regulate slavery, or the sale of organs, because the process itself commodifies women and children.

“I believe that all surrogacy should be prohibited, not simply regulated,” said Jennifer Lahl, president of the Center for Bioethics and Culture. “Laws, regulations, and contracts cannot ever protect women and children from all of its many harms.”

Lahl told me efforts to write surrogacy laws to avoid situations like what happened in Texas are ineffective because the law cannot regulate the endless ethical complexities that come when a new life is initiated by a legal contract, the exchange of money, and a rented body. Instead, she said, the law should abolish surrogacy.

“When you read these contracts, you find all kinds of horrible do’s and don’ts that these women agree to,” said Lahl, noting the intended parents basically feel like they have bought the surrogate’s “whole entire body for nine months.”

The contracts often dictate the surrogate’s diet, travel, exercise, living arrangement, and activities. They almost always include a “termination clause,” requiring the surrogate to agree to abort the unborn baby, or babies in the case of multiples. One surrogacy contract Lahl reviewed said the right of the parents to request an abortion “is absolute and does not require any explanation or justification to the surrogate.” Lahl has also reviewed contracts that prohibited any form of bonding between the surrogate and the child (which is impossible to prohibit), and one that required the surrogate surrender her end-of-life decision-making power to the intended parents.

In most states, contracts like these are legal. Only a handful of states—including Michigan, New York, and New Jersey—have outlawed commercial gestational surrogacy, but many of those states are trying to change their laws to permit the booming industry.

Advocates argue surrogacy is a contract between consenting adults, an arrangement that offers the gift of life to couples who are infertile.

But Lahl and others are pushing back, arguing laws should protect vulnerable people by criminalizing certain exploitative contracts. For example, consenting adults today cannot contract for the sale of organs or sex, so they should not be able to contract for a womb, or the baby growing in it. And more than just consenting adults are involved—a baby produced by surrogacy can never consent. 

Associated Press/Photo by Russell Contreras Associated Press/Photo by Russell Contreras Officer Ryan Holets holds his newly adopted daughter, Hope, after being recognized by the city of Albuquerque, N.M.

Unorthodox adoption process

A routine call for an Albuquerque, N.M., police officer last year took an unexpected turn when he convinced a pregnant woman he found using heroin to let him adopt her baby.

Officer Ryan Holets and another officer came across the woman, 35-year-old Crystal Champ, and her partner shooting heroin in a field behind a convenience store in September. The couple was homeless, and Holets noticed Champ looked about eight months pregnant.

When he asked her about her pregnancy, Champ told Holets that her addiction controlled her life, and that she would probably put her baby up for adoption. Instead of arresting the couple, he helped pay for a place for them to stay and agreed to adopt their unborn child.

“My wife was in shock,” Holets said about telling his wife, Rebecca, when he got home. The couple have a 5-year-old, 4-year-old twins, and a 10-month-old. But Holets said his wife quickly agreed to take on the challenge. The couple went through the required interviews, home visits, background checks, and paperwork to adopt the little girl. They were at the hospital when Champ gave birth.

The baby, whom they named Hope, had to undergo methadone treatment to wean her off her addiction. The adoption was finalized about two week ago.

Officials said an estimated 5 percent of all babies in New Mexico are born addicted to opioids. —K.C.

iPhone junkies

In the midst of a growing chorus of concerns about the harms of technology on children, two major Apple Inc. shareholders on Saturday sent an open letter to the company urging it to take steps to respond to the public health crisis of smartphone-addicted children and teens. Jana Partners LLC and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) together own about $2 billion in Apple shares. They urged the company to create better tools to allow parents more control over what their children look at, and for how long, and to study the mental health affects of overuse.

Apple defended its products in a statement issued Monday, and said it already provides parental controls on its smartphones—including the ability to add or delete apps, control in-app purchases, and restrict internet usage—but is “constantly looking” for ways to improve, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Jana and CalSTRS responded by saying they “look forward to a constructive discussion” with Apple. —K.C.

Vermont joins the third gender movement

Vermont is updating its Department of Motor Vehicles computer system to allow a third gender option on driver’s licenses. Officials claim the proposed change would help protect transgender individuals during traffic stops. The department reportedly consulted with the Law Enforcement Advisory Board, whose members said they would remain neutral about the change. Vermont joins the District of Columbia, California, and Oregon in allowing a third gender option on state identification. —K.C.

Kiley Crossland

Kiley is a WORLD Digital assistant editor and reports on marriage, family, and sexuality.

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  • Minivan Man's picture
    Minivan Man
    Posted: Wed, 01/17/2018 09:38 am

    It's good to have a variety of viewpoints written about, and the contrast is quite profound here at WORLD, even on the same front page. Kiley's article has a kind of warning against the dangers of surrogacy (and IVF), while Whitney's article is kind of a feel good embrace of surrogacy.  Nothing wrong with a good debate, let's give this issue some deep thought.