God Squad Rabbi Marc Gellman

Rabbi Marc Gellman writes about religion for Newsday.

QUESTION: My companion and I are both 54 and have known each other for 15 years. We started dating three years ago. When we met in 1999, the timing was not right since we were both in relationships with others. We love each other, but he feels like he's "missed out" on having a family of his own. He wants to marry me and have a biological child using a gestational surrogate and donor eggs. I know the Catholic Church is not in favor of surrogacy for various reasons. I tried to explain to him that a biological child is a "gift" from God, not a "right." However, he's steadfast in his belief that God has given us the scientific means to create a baby when it would otherwise be impossible. I've tried to impress upon him the fact that we'd be in our 70s by the time the child is a teenager, but he's quick to point out that many grandparents are raising their grandchildren. Do you think my boyfriend is taking the biblical tenet of "be fruitful and multiply" a bit too far?

-- Anonymous, via email

 

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ANSWER: The first issue that jumps out at me is why this man has not married you yet. Is his offer of matrimony dependent upon your agreeing to let him have a baby using his sperm and another woman's eggs? That would be a bad start for any marriage. You obviously don't want to use a surrogate. That's enough of a reason not to go down this morally complicated path.

I think you also need to get clear whether your main concern is raising a child in later life, or how you get one to raise. It's obviously best to want to be a mother before you become one. If, however, your biggest concern is about surrogacy, then perhaps adoption would be a better path.

I believe that the traditional teachings of every major religion, as well as our own moral instincts, are correct in acknowledging deep moral concerns about what amounts to paying women to be baby farmers. Aside from the financial aspects (we don't allow people to sell their organs, after all) and the physical risks of pregnancy for surrogates, adoption is a morally preferable alternative for many childless couples.

Take some time to read about the famous "Baby M" case, in which Mary Beth Whitehead entered into a surrogacy contract with William and Evelyn Stern. Whitehead was inseminated with Stern's sperm. After giving birth, however, she refused to give up Baby M. The case went to court. The judgment gave Whitehead visitation rights and the Sterns held custody. The point is, when you open a Pandora's box like surrogate motherhood, you never know what will fly out.

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Find out what's really going on in your friend's soul before you take another step down this path. Then make certain he wants to be your husband -- not just your friend -- and work out all of your issues before marriage. Postponing difficult issues until after the wedding is almost never a good idea.

I believe that wanting a baby is one of the most selfless, holy desires a couple can express. I also understand how wanting a baby who's your genetic offspring is also a deep and holy desire. Furthermore, I understand how surrogacy is a natural choice for gay or lesbian parents who want a genetic link to at least one partner.

However, I remain a staunch advocate of adoption for all couples, gay or straight, not only because it's free of the moral, legal and spiritual complexities of paying another person to take a physical risk to meet your emotional needs. Adoption also provides a home to children waiting to be loved.

In one of the several references to unborn children in the Bible, God says to Jeremiah (Chapter 1:5): "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you . . ." (See also Psalm 139:13; 22:9-11; Job 10:18-19; 31:15; Isaiah 44:2; 49:5). From these texts, I learn that God knows us and loves us in the womb. I also learn that God doesn't need to know our parents.