If only reproductive science was as clinically tidy as it sounds – all test tubes and sterile freezers. Those who stand to profit from it like to make their pitch seem so easy: Want to have focus on your career? Freeze your eggs! Looking for some sperm – have we got a Ben Affleck-look-alike for you! But baby-making is a messy business, and the more science has stepped in to solve our baby-making problem, the more real-world ethical complications it’s created.
Consider the story of Crystal Kelley, told by CNN, who had signed a contract to carry a baby for a warm and friendly couple in Connecticut wanting a fourth child. The couple had two frozen embryos left from in-vitro fertilization, and for a $22,000 (U.S.) fee, Kelley, a mother of two, would try to carry one of them to term. It worked: Kelley got pregnant.
And then everything fell apart. At five months, an ultrasound revealed the fetus wasn’t developing properly; the baby had a cleft palate, a cyst in her brain and serious heart defects, CNN reports. Doctors told the parents and Kelley that the baby would need major surgeries after she was born, and even then had a 25 per cent chance of a “normal life.”
Who decides what happens next?
The biological parents wanted Kelley to have an abortion, and they had a contract in which she had agreed to this step if abnormalities were identified. But Kelley, saying she was opposed to abortion on moral and religious grounds, said she wanted the baby to have a chance, and she refused. Communication between Kelley and the couple collapsed. In the back and forth that happened next through third parties, the biological parents said they wouldn’t be the legal parents of the baby, and they were about to cut off her surrogacy support, which Kelley needed to take care of her own family. They offered Kelley $10,000 to have an abortion; in a “weak moment,” Kelley told CNN, she said to tell them she would do it for $15,000, and then changed her mind. She wouldn’t have the abortion under any terms.
In Connecticut, the biological parents take legal precedence over the surrogate, so the couple then declared that they would take custody of the child and give her up to be a ward of the state. Kelley’s solution: have the baby in another state, where surrogacy contracts are not recognized.
In the end, Baby S was born in Michigan, with Kelley listed as the mom. (To further complicate the story, the couple had used an anonymous egg donor for the embryo, so only the husband was the biological parent.) Baby S suffered from birth defects more serious than the ultrasound had predicted, but through a support group of parents with kids with disabilities, Kelley found a family to adopt her. A deal was finally reached: The biological father, CNN says, gave up paternal rights to Baby S as long as he and his wife “could stay in touch with the adoptive family.” In the end, Baby S has a home.
But as the CNN story points out, what about the decision Kelley made? Is she “a saint who fought at great personal sacrifice for an unborn child whose parents who didn’t want her to live?” Or, did she “recklessly abscond” with someone else’s child after legally agreeing to give them decision-making power over its future, and make a decision that wasn’t hers to make?
Whatever question you answer in the affirmative, it doesn’t make the ending any tidier. As good as the science gets, and as much as the law tries to keep it neat, that part of the story always plays out, for better and worse, in the messy laboratory of life.