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Love, not a laboratory, makes a good parent

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The old question: "Am I a good parent?" can unsettle even the most conscientious mothers and fathers. Now it may become even more intimidating as it takes on a strange new 21st-century twist.

The first-ever research on the effects of surrogacy, conducted by a team of British psychologists, finds that couples who hire another woman to have a baby for them exhibit better parenting skills than those who bear their own children.

"Surrogacy couples are rated the best parents," a headline in The Times (London) proclaimed last week. Such families, the paper explains, "are generally closer and better adjusted than those begun in conventional fashion."

The same day, another British paper, The Independent, also carried a story on the subject with a subhead reading, "First detached study into 'renting out' wombs finds adoptive mothers more loving than those of children conceived naturally."

The Family and Child Psychology Research Center at City University in London found that surrogate families rated higher than "natural conception" families on several measures: the mother's warmth and enthusiasm in talking about her children, the emotional attachment between mother and child, and the amount and quality of time the mother and the father each spent with their children. Only in one area – the mother's sensitivity to her child – did those using assisted reproductive technology score the same as families conceiving children naturally.

Considering the intense longing for a baby that propels infertile couples into a surrogate arrangement, their devotion as parents is not surprising. But have we really come to the point where conventional childbearing – Mother Nature's way – is being upstaged by an artificial process that researchers might approvingly call Mother Nurture? Is this truly the ticket to the "best" parenting?

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