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Who thinks of the child?

The practice of surrogate motherhood raises too many profound legal and moral issues to become the sport of cheap publicity. Many will be anguished enough by the case of a Michigan mother who contracted to give birth to a baby and at first refused to accept the child when the alleged father claimed it was not his offspring. They will be all the more repulsed that the case should have been resolved in the glare of a popular TV talk show, which disclosed the results of tests showing that the baby was not the result of artificial insemination. The Michigan woman and her husband now have agreed to take the infant, said to have been born with a defect.

Society should be giving the most earnest thought to the growing interest in surrogate motherhood and the establishment of enterprises to provide child-bearing services for a profit. The legal implications themselves are horrendous. What if the mother carrying the child decides to keep the infant? What happens if the infant is physically or mentally deficient? What if the childless couple changes its mind about adoption? How protected will an adopted child be from future claims by its biological mother? There is little legal precedent for surrogate parenting to guide states making the laws.

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Beyond such uncertainties lie the even more disturbing moral and spiritual implications. Much of the public discussion has focused on the emotional needs of infertile couples, and proponents of the practice often cite its historical roots, going back to ancient times. Yet what of the child itself? How moral is it to choose to bring a human being into the world deprived of his or her natural mother? Or to produce more adoptions when so many children already are neglected? What is the impact on an infant born not out of the affection of marriage and legalized union but as the result of a commercialized, mechanical procedure? How is its character shaped by this contrived union of the sexes? Natural scientists and sociologists themselves do not have all the answers, and the human tragedies that can arise even with normal adoptions should make adults think before rushing to try new procedures.

As science advances the capacity for human generation by nonconventional means, society will have to summon up its deepest religious and ethical resources and give the question the concentrated attention it demands. At present it is not being faced up to.

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