By Denise Lavoie, Associated Press, Chicago Tribune, IL, August 30, 2001
BOSTON – A month after they were born, a baby boy and his twin sister still have no birth certificates. The paperwork is being held up in a dispute that could change the legal definition of “mother” in the state.
In Massachusetts and many other states, the woman who gives birth is presumed to be the child-bearer and can have her name on the original birth certificate. Some state laws do not address the issue of surrogate mothers who received an implanted embryo and carry it to term.
Maria and Steven Culliton hope to change that in Massachusetts. They hired a surrogate after Marla had six miscarriages. The woman received an embryo created from the couple’s sperm and egg, and she gave birth to twins on July 23.
Although the surrogate agrees she has no parental rights, a family court judge refused to allow the Cullitons’ names on the original birth certificates.
“It is one of a new wave of cases, which are forcing courts throughout the country to wrestle with the meaning of such basic, fundamental terms as ‘mother’, ‘paternity’ and ‘maternity’ as a result of reproductive medicine,” said Melissa Brisman, the Cullitons’ lawyer.
Massachusetts’ highest court will hear arguments in the case on Sept. 6. In the meantime, the court blocked the hospital from issuing birth certificates.
The usual procedure in cases involving a surrogate in Massachusetts is that the name of the child-bearer appears on the birth certificate. Hen the genetic parents must go to court to adopt the child and legally sever the surrogate’s parenting rights.
The original birth certificate is then sealed by the court – opened only in extraordinary circumstances by a judicial order – and a new one with the genetic parents’ names is issued.
The Cullitons do not want the surrogate’s name ever to appear on the birth certificates, arguing that genetic parents should have the right to decide how and when to tell children about the circumstances of their birth.
Surrogacy laws vary from state to state. Some states require genetic parents to go to court before birth to obtain a “pre-birth order” to have their names on the original birth certificate, without the name of the surrogate. Others require DNA testing after birth to document the child’s parentage before genetic parents can be listed on the birth certificate.
Andrew Vorzimer, a lawyer in Beverly Hills, Calif., who specializes in reproductive law, notes lawmakers in many states are reluctant to pass legislation that changes traditional notions of motherhood.