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Legal Definition Sought : Egg Donor or Surrogate--Which Is the Mother?

March 22, 1987

William Handel is asking the Los Angeles Superior Court to decide who is a mother.

Handel, director of the Center for Surrogate Parenting Inc. in Beverly Hills, and a legal expert on reproductive technology, says that the law has no problem excluding a man who has donated sperm from the ranks of fatherhood, classifying him as a sperm donor.

He wants an equivalent definition for a woman who is artificially inseminated and enters into a relationship specifically to carry a child for another couple.

Such a woman, Handel said, "is not a mother. Let's call her something else under the law. Let's call her a surrogate ."

Genetically, a sperm donor is "just as much a father as a surrogate is a mother," Handel said. "But the law has accepted the fact that this man has no right to claim he is a father. His name will never appear on the birth certificate. He is given no status as a father."

The same logic should apply to surrogate mothers, Handel said. "The women who do this are not the same as moms having babies. It's a whole new definition."

Also complicating the definition of motherhood are advances in reproductive technology. He offered this scenario: A woman cannot conceive because she has had a partial hysterectomy. Her uterus has been removed but she has egg-producing ovaries. Through in vitro fertilization--the conception of a child through the union of egg and sperm outside the womb in a glass dish--the embryo is transferred to the uterus of another woman. This IVF surrogate carries the child for nine months and gives it to the couple when it's born.

The IVF surrogate has no genetic connection to the child. But under California law, the woman who gives birth to a child is the mother, Handel said. The Beverly Hills Center has five IVF surrogates in its program now. One is expected to give birth this summer. He wants the woman who donated the egg to be designated as the mother on the birth certificate. Otherwise, he said, she will be required to adopt her genetic child.

"The concept that a mother should not have to give up her child in exchange for money is right," Handel said. "But we have new definitions here of mother ."

He wants a judge to make those definitions official.

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