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Rabbis Back Task Force’s Call to Ban Surrogate Motherhood

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Rabbis participating in a New York state bioethics task force said Tuesday that they support the panel’s endorsement of a ban on surrogate motherhood contracts.

In recommending legislation that would prohibit payments to surrogates and bar surrogacy brokers from operating in the state, the New York State Task Force on Life and the Law has taken “a proper stand,” Rabbi A. James Rudin, interreligious affairs director of the American Jewish Committee, said in a statement.

A second rabbi on the 26-member panel, Rabbi J. David Bleich of Yeshiva University, said that he essentially agreed with the recommendations, released Saturday.

The panel did not call for a total ban on surrogacy arrangements, and “would still permit surrogacy arrangements when they are undisputed and when they do not involve payment of a fee to a surrogate,” explained Rudin.

But the panel said the practice of paying women to serve as surrogate mothers “has the potential to undermine the dignity of women, children and human reproduction.”

In case of disputes, the task force recommended that custody always be awarded to the mother, unless there is “clear and convincing evidence” that awarding custody to the father would be in the child’s best interest.

In an interview Tuesday, Rudin said he hoped that legislation based on the report will be brought before the New York state legislature in the near future. Gov. Mario Cuomo said Saturday that he would use the report to initiate discussion with the legislature concerning a surrogate parenthood bill.

ILLEGAL IN FOUR STATES

Surrogate contracts are void and unenforceable in four states: Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana and Nevada. Regulations are pending in more than 20 other states.

The issue gained national attention when surrogate mother Mary Beth Whitehead tried to win custody of her child, referred to as “Baby M,” from William Stern, the natural father, with whom she had contracted to have a baby.

The New Jersey Supreme Court voided the contract between Whitehead and Stern, ruling that surrogacy contracts involving fees violate the state’s adoption laws. Nevertheless, the court awarded custody of the child to Stern. Whitehead has since won the right to weekly visits.

In his statement, Rudin said that “commercial surrogate parenting is similar to baby-selling. It also places a contractual ‘price tag’ on human reproduction.”

According to Bleich, a professor of Talmud at Yeshiva’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, Jewish law forbids both artificial insemination and “baby-selling.”

But halacha also treats placement of children born of such an arrangement as “a simple custody dispute.”

“A consensus holds that there is a paternal relationship established by artificial insemination,” said Bleich. “The father is obligated to support and maintenance, regardless of who gets custody, which should always be decided in the child’s best interest.”

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