Surrogacy is back in the news. One British tabloid, the Daily Mail, has talked of little else over the past few days, churning out article after article on the gory details of the story of Claire Austin and her disastrous surrogacy arrangement.
The story has all the ingredients of a great tabloid story. The themes are of surrogacy, sex selection, abortion and money. The players are a foreign couple, a Greek doctor, a surrogate left holding the babies and a Hollywood lesbian couple (with a Puerto Rican nanny). The talk has been of 'limbo twins', of perverting nature and babies as commodities. And then came the moral crusaders, saying 'I told you so' and warning of the evils of surrogacy.
This is a tragic story. But it is less about surrogacy and more about what happens when adults come into conflict over children. As in custody battles between divorcing parents or fights over paternity or maintenance payments, this falling out means that everyone gets hurt and no-one comes out a winner. But sometimes, in a small number of cases, surrogacy arrangements fall apart.
Claire Austin has found out the hard way that surrogacy arrangements are unenforceable. A surrogate mother is the legal mother under British law, even if she is not genetically related to the child. On this the law is very clear. And so, Claire Austin was the legal mother of the twins. But, now that the American couple has adopted them, they are now the legal parents.
I'm not complacent about this arrangement: it went disastrously wrong. But the outcome could have been much worse. The original commissioning couple, as callous as they seem to be, do not have children they don't want - nor does Claire Austin. The American couple have two children that they seem to want very much. The children have a home and two parents and are likely to grow up in a loving and privileged environment. Unlike many children involved in disputes between adults, the children are too young to understand what has been going on (in fact, most of the argument happened when they were still in the womb).
Surrogacy arrangements do sometimes come to grief. But the happiness that most of them bring, for the surrogate, the adoptive parents and the children, make surrogacy arrangements a worthwhile method of baby-making.