Pre-Unethical Conditions: Surrogate Mother Contracts And Making Babies With Jerks

womb-for-rent2Most surrogate mother arrangements work out exactly as intended by the participants. A couple or a single parent gets the biologically linked baby they bargained for, and the mother gets what she wanted, cash. To many the contracts seem unethical because the idea, only recently beyond the realm of science fiction, of a woman bearing another couple’s child, or allowing a stranger’s seed to impregnate her,  appears strange, unnatural and  icky, which it is. No, it is not unethical, but it is what we call a pre-unethical condition, a situation that lays a foundation for unethical conduct and results if care isn’t taken and one or more participants lack functioning ethics alarms. Three recent episodes demonstrate how icky can turn to unethical, especially when the wrong kind of people are involved.

I. The Unwanted Triplet, continued.

Earlier this year, Ethics Alarms hosted a spirited debate regarding Melissa Cook, a surrogate who fought against the man who owned her three unborn triplets, having rented out her womb to gestate them. He wanted to have one of them aborted, because two babies were all he felt he could support. She refused, and challenged the surrogacy contract in court. I asked…

What is being argued about here? Is that newly spawned triplet a baby, as the gestating-by-contact mother claims? Is it just a potential, wart-like annoyance as the birth father says? Who should have the right to kill it? Cook’s not entirely a mother, is she? Could she choose to abort the triplet, or all of them? I’m guessing not, even though it is “her body.” Still, as long as the triplets are part of her body, they have only the status of leeches or tumors, right? That’s what I get from the rhetoric of the Planned Parenthood execs; I mean, I could be wrong. So if the fact that it’s her body having to nurture the trio of tiny parasites doesn’t give her the right to kill them, why would she have the right not to kill them, since her womb is now the equivalent of a rented, furnished apartment? Then again, surely we can’t have a man forcing a woman to have an abortion since…well, it isn’t her body, exactly is it? Not the baby-making part anyway–he contracted to have control of that part. She made a deal, fair and square, signed and sealed. Right?

The post and the situation sparked two thought-provoking Comments of the Day, this, from a father who used a surrogate, and here, a post that objects to those who employ surrogates being ask to defend their decision not to adopt.

Now Melissa Cook has given birth to healthy, though premature, triplets. During the pregnancy, the sperm donor ultimately demanded that she abort all three developing embryos, because, he wrote, the legal battles and paying for the surrogacy had ruined his finances.Immediately after the babies were born Monday evening of this week, the hospital refused to let Melissa see the children and removed them from Cook. Then a California judge granted the biological father/sperm donor/thwarted embryo killer full parental rights to all three children, and Cook is appealing the decision.

Says her lawyer: “We have a mother who loves them, who fought for them, who defended their life, who stands ready to take care of them. You can’t tell a mother who gives birth to children that what happens to the children is none of her business.”

Can’t you? Wasn’t her “business” just to gestate the children, give birth to them, and then cash her check?

Yet somehow I think King Solomon would have at least allowed her to keep the one the father wanted to kill.

I also wonder why the father is insisting on taking all three children that he apparently would have aborted without Cook’s intervention, especially when he has repeatedly said that he can’t afford them. The lesson here appears to be “Don’t get into a surrogacy contract involving someone who is unstable, vindictive, or a big  jerk.”

II. Jordan Schnitzer’s Heir

“Jerk” is the operative word in this epic mess, as a tycoon with two daughters still would only be satisfied if a son would inherit his business. Someone who thinks like that is pretty much a jerk by the principle of res ipsa loquitur.

Jordan Schnitzer, the jerk in question, is a wealthy Oregon businessman. After two attempts to create a son using his sperm and  surrogates, he met and began dating Cory Sause, who had frozen some of her eggs before meeting Schnitzer. While they were dating, she offered her eggs to Schnitzer so he could finally have a male heir. (She did this, she said, in part because she had killed 21-year-old man and severely injured his 14-year-old brother in a drunk driving incident in 2004, so “I took a life and I want to help create a life.”)   Under the resulting contract between the two, the daughter-distrusting Schnitzer unequivocally disavowed rights and responsibilities to any embryos that were female, while Sause gave up rights to male embryos.

Schnitzer then had one of the male embryos that was created using  his sperm and one of Sause’s eggs transferred to the uterus of a surrogate, thus creating a pre-unethical condition using a pre-unethical condition.  Predictably, things went awry. When his son was born last December, Schnitzer successfully petitioned an Oregon court for an order stating that only his name should go on the child’s birth certificate. Suase, the biological mother, has her lawyers opposing him, arguing that while she gave up rights to the male embryos, she did not give up the right to be acknowledged as the mother of the child on the child’s birth certificate, rights to visit the child.

The surrogate, who actually gave birth to the child for these two wacky kids, has nothing to say in the matter.

III. The Sherri Shepherd Saga

The jerk in this strange case is former seven-year View co-host Sherri Shepherd. She “had a baby,” at least in the legal sense, using a surrogate, a donor’s egg and sperm from her then-husband Lamar Sally, whom she married in 2011. Under the baby-making agreement with a surrogacy-facilitating company called Reproductive Possibilities, they could terminate the contract at any time before the “gestational carrier” had  undergone the IVF/embryo transfer.

Shepherd paid $100,000 during the surrogacy process. She and Sally communicated often with the surrogate mother during the pregnancy. Then Sally and Shepherd separated and both filed for divorce in May 2014, before their baby was born.

Being no longer married, Shepherd no longer wanted the baby she conceived with its father. When her son was born on Aug. 5, 2014, Shepherd demanded that her name be left off the birth certificate, so the hospital listed the birth mother instead and billed her for hospital costs. Later, California began to seek child support from the surrogate mother, because Sally couldn’t afford to support the child by himself.

Lawsuits ensued.

Shepherd first claimed that Sally forced her to sign the surrogacy contract through fraud, then argued that since she didn’t give birth to the child, she could only become the baby’s mother through adoption, and she wasn’t about to adopt. In May 2015,a court in Pennsylvania found the surrogacy contract enforceable and decreed that Shepherd was the child’s mother. Shepherd has appealed, lost, asked for reconsideration, and been turned down. She must now pay Sally at least $4,000 a month in child support until the boy turns 18.

Shepherd has never seen the boy, and doesn’t plan to.


Also, ick.



Spark: Fred

Sources: Life News, Buzzfeed, Above the Law


15 thoughts on “Pre-Unethical Conditions: Surrogate Mother Contracts And Making Babies With Jerks

  1. Jack,
    You always have such a way with words. I know this is serious subject matter, yet your spin on it is spot on and rather hilarious…..”womb is now the equivalent of a rented, furnished apartment.” Maybe even a “womb with a view.”

    I would imagine, though Ms. Cook was a baby factory, she ultimately had control in the sense that if she didn’t eat right or threw her self down the stairs, she could have forced a manual abortion aka a miscarriage. The odds of triplets are very high in IVF which makes me think stricter guidelines must be written in the “parental” contract.

    In the third scenario, what is even more appalling, is that Ms. Sheppard claims to be a born again Christian. Coming from a family of BAC’s myself, this way of conceiving would be frowned upon. If God wanted someone to get pregnant, then He would allow it. But Ms. Shepperd has always historically made her own rules, of course, while judging others for their past and present actions.

    I guess the old fashioned way of adoption is just not the “in” thing anymore.

    • Some born-again Christians are opposed, but not all. But I would hope that no practicing born-again Christians would have fought to avoid responsibility for a child they specifically contracted for.

      It’s a crazy world, though.

  2. Let’s hear it for people who were/are childless for one reason or another and accepted/accept it and lived/live with it. My maiden (probably lesbian?) aunt was all four of my brother’s and my four long dead grandparents rolled into one sweet person for us when we were growing up.

  3. (1) “because Sally couldn’t afford to support the child by himself.” — Taken out of context, this phrase could have given the post yet another brave-new-worldly twist.

    (2) The “ick” value of these examples is well into the 90th percentile, worthy of the National Enquirer itself. The only thing missing — and I for one am glad of it — are those fuzzy taken-from-behind-the-hedge photographs of any of the people involved.

    (3) But I don’t see the “ick” in surrogacy itself, nor in in vitro fertilization (IVF). To me they seem like healthy, hopeful, albeit expensive, options for parents. Childbirth itself used to be considered either sacred or “ick,” colored with scary superstitions. It has only in the past few generations come to be understood, respectfully, as neither.

  4. 1. I’m trying to see how the evils of surrogacy illustrate your example here. Every day, fathers or mothers try to persuade the other to agree to an abortion for financial or other reasons. Often, they decide to go forward with the pregnancy. Sometimes they end up being shitty parents, sometimes not.
    2. I used to think there was an ick factor about gender selection, but I have changed my views. Which is worse? Parents who have 6 pregnancies trying to finally get that boy or girl, or going to a doctor to have a relatively simple procedure done? When I see that family of 6 at the store where the youngest is the opposite gender, I always wonder what son (or daughter) 2, 3, 4, and 5 must feel. “Am I only here because mom and dad wanted a son (daughter)?” Really, the only lesson from this example is: “Don’t enter into surrogacy agreements with assholes.”
    3. Assuming everything you said is correct, I want to find Sheri Shepherd and start slapping her. I know that people can be coerced into familial traps, but she entered into a contract. And there is a child — who will grow up knowing that “mom” feels that he shouldn’t exist at all. Scum.

      • If you think an unimplanted embryo sitting in a petri dish is a brother or sister, then okay. In your view, then all IVF procedures involve killing brothers or sisters — or at least keeping them in deep freeze for perpetuity.

    • I guess Sherri’s issue, if I am remembering it correctly, is that the sperm was from her husband and the egg was from a donor. It wasn’t as if it was her egg. However, she did enter into a contract and when her marriage was failing she wanted out……out of everything. When the baby was born, Sherri wouldn’t allow her name on the birth certificate, so the name on the BC was the surrogate’s. Then the surrogate was being sued by the state of California.
      I’m glad Sherri lost and has to pay $4,000/mo because as a case of law, this would have opened a can of worms allowing others to abandon their contracts.
      I wonder what Sherri would have done if she herself had become pregnant as her marriage went south. Abortion?

    • What is this sudden mania for misreading or mistateing what I have written? Does the term “Pre-unethical conditions” suggest that such a condition is evil, or even unethical? No. It says, quite correctly as applied to surrogacy, that surrogacy open the door to many kinds of unethical conduct if 1) unethical people are involved and 2) if things take an unexpected turn. I don’t even say that surrogacy is a bad thing or shouldn’t be allowed.

      In legal ethics, joint representations are “pre-unethical conditions.”

      • But if the same conduct could happen in a marriage, as in the first case, then any relationship ever could be a pre-unethical condition. The term is meaningless — at least in this context.

        • How could the same conduct happen in the first case? A husband has no standing to force a mother to abort a fetus. The surrogacy contract mixes up rights and legal power and leads to ethics dead ends—and that’s why its a “pre-unethical condition.” None of these scenarios would occur in a two parent, normal pregnancy.

          • No, he can’t force her, but he can leave her if she refuses. It happens a lot. Then, if the woman goes through with the pregnancy, then he has the opportunity to step up the plate or not.

            Or, the old story of a woman trapping a man into marriage (or vice-versa; the “honey, the condom broke”). No pregnancy was intended, but they go forward with it anyway and get married.

            • Married men leave women who won’t have an abortion? FATHERS do, but being an unmarried mothers or father is another pre-unethical condition, or outright unethical. I’d like to see your stats. Married people having unplanned kids without an understanding is a pre-unethical condition, but that’s not “marriage,” that’s irresponsible marriage.

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