Monday, February 07, 2005

Whose baby is it, anyway?

Not much going on today with my own donor egg cycle. I started injections of 10 units of Lupron yesterday and this I can tell you: Lupron = instant menopause. I'm sweating like a pig and my face looks like I've had three glasses of wine before breakfast, and I nearly cried at a red light this morning on the way to work.

Over the weekend I happened on a couple of news stories that made me think about an important question for donor egg mothers, and for egg donors: Whose baby is it, anyway?

In a recent California case, the court has said that a lesbian egg donor who donated the eggs used to impregnate her partner has no parental rights to the resulting twin girls, whom she helped to raise for five years until the couple split up. The case is to be appealed to the California Supreme Court. (For more on this case, see this article and this one.)

The ruling was made in part because the woman signed a standard egg donor agreement at the couple's fertility clinic. Although both state laws and the text of clinic donor agreements vary, all stipulate that the egg donor relinquishes parental rights to any children born of her donation. Under the Uniform Parentage Act, maternity and parental rights can be established by genetic testing, completed adoption, or by giving birth to the child. Approximately 19 states have adopted a version of the Uniform Parentage Act. In one infamous surrogacy case, Buzzanca v. Buzzanca, the court initially ruled that a child born of an embryo donation via surrogacy had no parents. In a later ruling, the court determined that "parental relationships may be established when intended parents initiate and consent to medical procedures, even when there is no genetic relationship between them and the child." The court quoted a legal commentator on the subject, saying that the intended parents are the "first cause, prime movers, of the procreative relationship."

In a disturbing opposite view, however, a Pennsylvania court ruled that a sperm donor must pay support or twin boys born of his donation. This case was a "he said, she said" situation in which the man alleged there was a verbal contract stipulating he would not be obligated to children born of his donation, while the twins' mother now says there was no such agreement. She filed for child support five years after the twins were born in August 1994.

Once I chewed all that up and digested it, I felt a lot better as a future donor egg mother. I am indeed a "first cause"; a "primary mover" -- I will be my child's mother not only by giving birth, but because I want to be. Sadly, not every child's mother can say that, no matter the method of conception.

I do feel very sad for the lesbian mother who has been torn away from her children, but she was not the "usual" egg donor, who has no desire to have a child that particular month and to whom an egg is just an egg. And I feel sympathetic toward the man forced to pay child support for children that he did not plan to raise as his own.

The takeaway for all of us? Read the fine print. In neither of these cases was there a legal contract that correctly laid out the wishes of those involved. I think tonight's bedside reading might include the recipient contract I signed, and (if I can get it) a blank copy of the donor agreement that Our Donor signed. Because the truth this point, I'll sign anything to be a mother. But I'd still better know what it says.

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