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Surrogate Ruling Breaks Ground

NATURE VERSUS NURTURE

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THE decision this week by an Orange County judge in a landmark surrogacy case pushes American family law in a new direction, possibly encouraging more infertile couples to seek such arrangements in the future. In a ruling Monday, Superior Court Judge Richard Parslow denied surrogate mother Anna Johnson parental rights to a month-old boy she carried for an infertile couple. It was the first case in which a surrogate mother had sought to become a ``third parent'' to a child to which she had no genetic link.

The decision will also likely heighten the debate over surrogacy, including state legislatures, which have been reluctant to take on the complicated and emotional issue.

``Every decision that seems to reduce the risk of going into surrogacy contracts is certainly going to encourage the business to develop,'' says Alta Charo, a reproductive-law specialist at the University of Wisconsin.

Under a surrogate contract, Mark and Crispina Calvert paid Ms. Johnson $10,000 to bring to term an embryo that was a product of their egg and sperm. During the pregnancy, Johnson said, she had become attached to the child and sued for custody.

In denying her claim, Judge Parslow said a ``three parent'' situation would be confusing to the child, inviting ``emotional and financial extortion.'' He also upheld the contract, which had been signed between the parties before hand.

If the ruling is upheld on appeal - which some experts doubt - it would have significant social and legal implications. It would likely increase the number of so-called gestational surrogacies in the United States.

Gestational surrogacy, where a couple's egg and sperm are united in a test tube and the embryo implanted in another woman, differs from traditional surrogacy, in which the birthing mother is artificially inseminated with the father's sperm. In the celebrated Mary Beth Whitehead case, or Baby M case, the traditional technique was used.

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