Do Mothers Matter?

How surrogacy and egg donation, which first gained national attention in the 1980s, are bringing into the world a class of children beset by confusion, depression, and loss.

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Do mothers matter? Having no mother was -- at least until recently -- widely agreed to be a tragedy. Psychiatric case studies, Disney movies, and well-known spirituals such as "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" have testified to the importance of mothers and the pain of mother loss. But such views have not meant that every child has lived in a society that affirms the importance of the child's bond with his or her mother. Children have been denied their mothers because of class biases (see, poor); racial and ethnic biases (Indian, Aborigine); as part of severe civil conflict (Argentina, Dirty War); amid widespread, institutionalized human rights abuses (slavery); or because their mothers were rightly or wrongly perceived to be unfit (see: history of adoption, good, bad, and ugly).

Yet even as the broad history of helping ourselves to other people's children continues to be probed and largely condemned (except in the case of adoption, where most reasonable people agree that such an institution must exist in order to find loving homes for children in need of them), a newer and notably deliberate form of mother loss has sprung up, one that receives relatively little debate and is often presented as benign or even good, without question. I am referring, of course, to the practices of surrogacy and egg donation.

Most sperm donor-conceived persons strongly object to anonymous donation of sperm. Nearly half feel troubled by the role of money in their conception.

When surrogacy and egg donation first gained national attention in the 1980s the children in question usually had a social mother, a woman, herself infertile, married to a man and seeking to achieve pregnancy with the use of another woman's body. Today we are witnessing an equal opportunity run on deliberately conceiving motherless children. Men, alone or in pairs, can buy eggs and rent wombs, too. A child can be denied knowledge of and a relationship with his or her generally fit mother simply because other adults -- the child's prospective legal parents -- wish it to be so, and are willing to pay to make it so. These transactions occur with the aid of doctors, lawyers, and clinics licensed by the state, and thus with tacit approval from the state.

I wrote about some of these new single fathers by choice in my recent report, "One Parent or Five: A Global Look at Today's New Intentional Families." There is Ian Mucklejohn, father of three. In 2001, at the age of 54, the British citizen became the father of triplets conceived with an egg donor and a gestational surrogate mother, both living in the U.S. Mucklejohn soon became a hero for other single fathers-to-be when he won British citizenship and birth certificates with a blank in the space for "mother" for all three children.

Or look to in India where, in 2005, a middle-aged accountant, Amit Banerjee, became that nation's first known single father by choice. His doctor enthused that the new father "was a perfect candidate for ART. As a physician I could not deny him the available technology that hundreds of childless couples are opting to fulfill their dreams of a family." A reporter asked, what about the child's loss of ever knowing his mother? The doctor replied with a question: "What about a child whose mother dies on the delivery bed?" In other words, some children already begin life under the gravely tragic circumstances of their mother dying in childbirth. Is it not the right of would-be parents intentionally to create such children -- and is it not the obligation of doctors to help them do it?

Presented by

Elizabeth Marquardt is editor of FamilyScholars.org, as well as vice president for family studies and director of the Center for Marriage and Families at the Institute for American Values. She is the author, most recently, of One Parent or Five.

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