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Fatherhood by a New Formula

In the Washington area, all three jurisdictions allow egg donation. Surrogates are recruited in Maryland, because surrogacy contracts are illegal in the District and Virginia bars payments for surrogates.

Hinson said her practice has grown rapidly, mostly through referrals. About half of the firm's 25 current clients are gay; the rest are heterosexual couples. So far, one set of twins has been born on behalf of a gay couple; several surrogates are pregnant with babies they are carrying for gay men, including Scott.

New dads Michael Thorne-Begland (left) and Tracy Thorne-Begland hold their 4-month-old twins -- daughter Logan (left) and son Chance. The twins were carried to term by a surrogate in a pregnancy that was the product of sperm from one of the partners and eggs donated by the sister of the other.

Ethicists worry that the practice of buying eggs and renting a uterus raises questions about informed consent and potential exploitation that don't apply just to gay or single parents. They also worry that the child's best interests have been overlooked.

"Of course there are some people whose parents met drunk in the back seat of a car," said Arthur L. Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, noting that society doesn't impose regulations on people intending to become parents. "But when you have to use medical technology to create a pregnancy and have unusual social arrangements it raises more questions."

"It's not that I don't think gay people can't be good parents," he added. "But the key question is, 'Who's going to protect these children' " if a parent dies, becomes disabled or a relationship dissolves?

In the view of Lori B. Andrews, director of the Institute for Science, Law and Technology at Chicago-Kent College of Law, assisted reproduction has far outstripped regulation of it. "We have Model T laws trying to keep up with space age technology," she said. "There are plenty of legal land mines here."

Despite contracts that promise confidentiality to donors, Caplan and Andrews predict that in 20 years children created through anonymous egg or sperm donation will come looking for their biological parents, as did adoptees of an earlier era.

Hinson rejects such criticism. "I started off as a single mother by choice, and I don't think my child suffered for it, " said Hinson who has since remarried. "I'm a believer in nontraditional families. I think families come in all shapes and sizes."

Reducing Risks

To minimize the possibility of future legal problems, Hinson said she works solely with gestational surrogates: The woman who gives birth is not the egg donor and has no genetic link to a baby.

Egg donors are usually paid $7,500, while surrogates receive $20,000 for a single baby and $25,000 for twins. All expenses, including fees for outside lawyers to represent the interests of each woman, are paid by the prospective father. Egg donors and prospective parents are not told each others' last names to minimize the possibility of claims of custody or financial support.

Most egg donors, who range in age from 21 to 32, are recruited through ads in college or local newspapers. Scott's ad, which ran in The Washington Post's Express tabloid in September 2003, specified that he was looking for a "smart, fit and happy" donor with an "excellent personal and family health history."

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