We've all heard the happy stories about surrogacy -- just look at thrilled parents Giuliana and Bill Rancic! Who doesn't love their story? But what happens when a surrogate pregnancy goes wrong?
One couple found out the hard way, and ended up offering their surrogate an extra $10,000 to terminate a pregnancy they believed would cause a life of misery and suffering to the baby she was carrying on their behalf. She refused. Was she wrong? Were the parents wrong to ask her to terminate in the first place? It's a tough situation, but I believe the decision lies with the baby's parents, and in this case, that didn't include the woman carrying that baby.
Here’s what happened, in a little bit more than a nutshell: Surrogate mom Crystal Kelley was five months pregnant with a fetus she was carrying on behalf of a couple who already had three children (two of the couple's 'leftover' frozen embryos were implanted; the second embryo failed to thrive) when an ultrasound confirmed terrible news. The technicians could not see a stomach or a spleen, and the baby had a cleft lip and palate, a cyst in her brain, and serious heart defects. Doctors gave the baby a 25 percent chance of ever having a "normal life" and said that she’d need several heart surgeries after she was born, at the least.
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Here's where the biological parents and the surrogate saw things differently. The mother and father, who were paying Kelley $22,000 to carry their baby, wanted to terminate; all three of their previous children had been born prematurely, two requiring extensive hospital stays and facing ongoing medial problems. They didn’t want to put another baby through something even worse, which is completely understandable. Except for devout pro-lifers, no one would blame the couple for choosing abortion, if the mother was the one actually carrying the severely deformed fetus.
But Kelley didn't see things that way; she wanted to give the baby in her womb "a chance" at life.
"They were both visibly upset. The mother was crying," Kelley says of meeting with the parents when they asked her to end the pregnancy. "They said they didn't want to bring a baby into the world only for that child to suffer. They said I should try to be God-like and have mercy on the child and let her go." But Kelley didn’t agree: "I told them that they had chosen me to carry and protect this child, and that was exactly what I was going to do. I told them it wasn't their decision to play God."
Hmm. Isn't it kind of strange to talk about playing God, when you're bearing another woman's child, thanks to the miracle of modern technology?
An incredibly stressful and sad series of events followed, including an offer on behalf of the desperate mother and father to pay Kelley an extra $10,000 to have an abortion. She countered with $15,000, but says it was a "moment of weakness" because she needed the money so badly and quickly changed her mind. After being sued, Kelley got desperate and moved from Connecticut to Michigan, one of the states that doesn't recognize surrogacy contracts, where the baby legally belongs to the woman who's carrying the baby. Which in itself is totally incredible, isn't it? It seems insane: you pay someone to carry your baby because you can't, and that woman could end up being declared your baby's mother?!
You can read about the whole rest of the story at CNN, including the major medical abnormalities "Baby S." was born with, her slim chances at a healthy life, and who ended up adopting her (Kelley wanted to give the baby a chance at life, but she didn't want to raise her). I find the whole thing heartbreaking -- this isn't something I've ever thought about when it comes to surrogacy, but of course, it makes sense that complications can arise, just as with any pregnancy.
I have so many questions about this specific situation ... Why, if their other children all suffered medical abnormalities, did the mom and dad go ahead with another pregnancy using the same "batch" of embryos? Why, if Kelley was so adamantly "pro-life," did she feel it was OK to implant two embryos, knowing one or both might not make it? Isn't that "playing God" as well? What’s the difference?
The real question though is, who should get to make the tough decisions when it comes to surrogacy -- the woman carrying the baby or the biological parents? To me, it’s one of those things that seems straightforward at first -- the surrogate is performing a service; it’s an incredible service, to be sure, but she’s not the parent. Yet, having carried my own child and knowing that bond you develop with the little life inside of you, I do understand why Kelley felt such a sense of responsibility to the baby. Ultimately, though, the fact is that Kelley signed an agreement to, essentially, allow another couple the use of her body, and I don’t believe it was her decision to make.
What do you think? Was Kelley right to defy the parents' wishes and refuse to end the pregnancy?
Photo via lizdavenportcreative/Flickr