Infertility is devastating for people who want to become parents but are physiologically unable to. Today, several popular reproductive techniques have greatly extended the possibilities of having a child. However, at the same time, they have further complicated the issues relating to the determination of family lineage.
Artificial insemination is a popular method with couples unable to conceive naturally. The simplest situation is homologous assisted reproduction, where both partners in a couple participate. Yet even here, controversial issues can arise and mistakes can arise.
Mistakes can happen where the embryo from an identified couple is implanted into the uterus of the wrong woman. This was the case in 2014 in an Italian hospital where the embryos of a couple, obtained by means of homologous insemination, were mistakenly implanted into the uterus of another woman who, along with her husband, underwent the same treatment. Based on these events, Italian researchers conducted a study, published in the Open Access journal Open Medicine, to look at the ethical and legal issues surrounding gestational surrogacy.
Who becomes the parent?
The authors analyzed ethical and legal issues connected with this such adverse circumstances and conducted a comparative examination of how to consider the division of maternity (between the biological mother and uterine mother) and the related division of paternity (between genetic father and legal father, husband or partner of the gestational mother).
The question posed in such devastating mix-ups: Who legitimately becomes the parent? The birth mother or the couple who’s embryo was mistakenly implanted into the wrong womb?
The study looked at several cases from the US during their research. For example, in 1999 there was the case of Richard and Donna Fasano of New York, who had twins, one of which was black, due to a mistakenly implanted embryo. The biological parents later obtained custody of the child, who was consequently separated from his brother. Subsequently, the Fasano’s were granted visitation rights, so that the twin boys could get to know their brother.
“It didn’t matter if that child was in the wrong tummy”
In another US case, the clinic realised the mistake soon after insemination and advised the woman concerned to have an abortion. The pregnant woman from Ohio responded with, “What I was carrying in my womb was a human life and we had to protect that. It didn’t matter if that child was in the wrong tummy. It wasn’t our fault or his parents’ fault.” Deciding against an abortion she said, “I put myself in the shoes of that child’s mother: what would I have done if my son had been in another woman’s tummy? Wouldn’t I have prayed with all my heart for that woman to let my son live?”
Birth mothers are not children-producing machines
The authors found that whilst the passing on of genetic makeup to the unborn child depends on the genetic mother, it is the birth mother who prepares the child for life, through the unbreakable bond that is created, during pregnancy, between her own vital functions and those of the foetus she is carrying in her womb.
The choice between the two women should be made taking into account the interest of the unborn child. The birth mother is not a machine for producing children, nor is she an animal whose womb can be used to provide a purely material service. And above all, it is the birth mother who decides the destiny of the pregnancy.
Read the Open Access article here
Claudia Casella, Emanuele Capasso, Lucia Terracciano, Paola Delbon, Piergiorgio Fedeli, Francesco Antonio Salzano, Fabio Policino, Massimo Niola: Ethical and legal issues in gestational surrogacy 18.04.2018