A recent story out of Connecticut has raised legal and ethical questions about the rights of a surrogate parent who has entered into a contract with a couple seeking a child.

Crystal Kelley agreed to become a surrogate for a couple who wanted a child, but complications arose when a five-month ultrasound revealed fetal abnormalities.  The expectant parents were devastated by the news, and they wanted to “have mercy on the child and let her go,” while Kelley did not want to have an abortion.

Lengthy Legal Battle

The parties were involved in a months-long legal battle, which eventually led to Kelley moving from Connecticut to Michigan.  State laws in Michigan view a surrogate as the rightful mother, which means that Kelley alone could decide what happens to the child.  Kelley delivered “Baby S” eight months ago, and the child is now living with another adoptive family.

Baby S has already had three surgeries, and doctors say there are more operations to come.  They also said that even if Baby S survives the surgery, she only has a 50 percent chance of ever being able to walk or talk.  Even against those odds, Keller says she believes she did the right thing.

“No one else was feeling this pregnancy the way that I was. No one else could feel her kicking and moving around inside,” she said. “I knew from the beginning that this little girl had an amazing fighting spirit, and whatever challenges were thrown at her, she would go at them with every ounce of spirit that she could possibly have.”

The whole thing began in 2011 when Kelley agreed to be a gestational carrier for the couple, which meant that she would have no genetic connection to the child.  Kelley would be paid $22,000 by the couple, but the ultrasound revealed a cleft palate and lip, a brain cyst and serious heart defects.

“Given the ultrasound findings, (the parents) feel that the interventions required to manage (the baby’s medical problems) are overwhelming for an infant, and that it is a more humane option to consider pregnancy termination,” members of the fetal medical staff at Hartford Hospital said in a letter.

Concerns for the Child

The parents-to-be were concerned about the well-being of their unborn child, as previous births had already left two of their children with medical problems.  They said they brought up the issue with Kelley, but she “adamantly” disagreed.

Although the couple had stated in a contract that Kelley would get an abortion if the event of “severe fetus abnormality,” Kelley’s attorney argued that such an agreement is not legally binding.

“She still has the constitutional right that any woman has, to make decisions about her own body.”

One surrogate expert said these types of issues are often overlooked during the process of selecting a surrogate.  While it can be an uncomfortable topic, it’s important to make sure each side shares or understands the other side’s philosophical and ethical views.  Another topic that should be discussed is if twins or triplets are conceived.

The couple tried to convince Kelley to have an abortion, and they offered her $10,000 to reconsider.  Kelley refused, but said she would do the procedure for $15,000.  The couple refused to pay Kelley that amount, and the surrogate mother later decided that she wanted to have the baby.

Kelley eventually decided to move to Michigan where she would have legal guardian rights to the child, and gave birth to Baby S.  The child was born with a variety of issues, including holoprosencephaly, which means the brain is not divided into distinct hemispheres, and heterotaxy, which means her organs are not located in their correct location in the body.  She also had complex ear and heart problems.  After realizing she could not care for the baby as a single mother, Kelley gave Baby S to an adoptive couple who specialize in high-needs children.

Related source:  CNN.com