Doctors, lawyers and clergy on both sides of the issue of surrogate motherhood expressed rare agreement in a D.C. Council hearing yesterday, most finding fault with bills intended to regulate second-party childbearing.
The two measures, sponsored by council member John Ray (D-At Large), would forbid surrogate parenting clinics or sperm donor centers to pay women for bearing children or men to donate sperm intended for use by infertile couples.
Proponents of the new practices argued that eliminating payment would effectively end surrogate motherhood and sperm donation, while opponents argued that passage would legitimize the practices.
Representatives of the D.C. Commission for Women were the sharpest in their criticism of the proposed legislation, saying that regulating surrogate motherhood would amount to the "buying and selling of babies."
Commission member Diane Flanagan-Montgomery, who compared surrogate parenting to the practice of separating mothers from their children that was common during slavery, said that a study commission should be appointed to examine the entire issue of reproductive technology.
"I think it's bad public policy to produce human beings for money," said Diane Caruthers, another commission member.
The women's commission's view was shared by the Rev. John O'Connor, who represented the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Rev. Douglas Moore, a former D.C. Council member.
Surrogate parenting, O'Connor said, "mechanizes family life, depersonalizes a precious relationship and undermines the stability of marriage and family life."
"Do we need surrogate mothers?" asked Moore. "I think not. There are plenty of babies waiting for a home. I suspect what surrogate parenting is all about is a shortage of Caucasian babies."
Church groups and fertility experts are normally on opposite sides of this issue, which received national notoriety during New Jersey's "Baby M" case, when biological mother Mary Beth Whitehead sought custody of the girl she bore under a contract with Elizabeth and William Stern. The Sterns eventually retained custody of the child.
Fertility expert Richard J. Falk testified that 15 percent of all American married couples are involuntarily infertile and in need of the services provided by surrogate parenting or by sperm donor clinics such as the one he operates at Columbia Hospital for Women.
But the supply of sperm donated, he said, would disappear if he were not allowed to pay $50 for each sperm donor. Sperm donors, he testified, "cannot be depended upon to volunteer their semen for purely altruistic reasons."
Similarly, Washington lawyer Matthew L. Myers, representing a group called Surrogate Motherhood Inc., said that forbidding payment to surrogates "is not only counterproductive and unnecessary to prevent abuse but will eliminate surrogate parenting as a viable alternative for childless couples in the District of Columbia."
Ray, however, defended this provision of his bill, saying that removing the profit-making motive from the process would lessen the chance that surrogate or sperm donor volunteers would be exploited.
"I have a basic disagreement with the statement that the only way you can get someone to donate sperm is by paying a fee," he said.
Elizabeth Symonds of the American Civil Liberties Union said that her organization has not yet established its position on the surrogate parenting issue, but suggested that the provisions of Ray's bill should be extended to cover single people and homosexual couples.