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Tuesday, 21 August, 2001, 11:22 GMT 12:22 UK
Surrogacy: Who should have parental rights?
A British woman asked to be a surrogate mother by a Californian couple says she will take them to court to stop them from making money from the twins.

The couple asked Helen Beasley to terminate her pregnancy after discovering she was carrying twins, but she refused.

Miss Beasley accuses the American couple - who she contacted over the internet - of backing out of the $20,000 deal with her and demanding at least three times more to transfer their parental rights.

Under California law, all rights to the future of the twins lie with the intended parents, but the surrogate mother will ask the court to grant her parental rights, so that she can decide who the parents will be.

Who should have rights over the children? Are babies being turned into commodities bought and sold over the internet? Do we need international rules to regulate surrogacy and adoption?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

I believe that, in the way that Groucho Marx wouldn't have wanted to belong to any club that would have him as a member, people who are so driven by the desire to possess a child, and I stress the word possess, should not be able to purchase one in this way. I think that the checks and balances in the current adoption system in the UK go a long way to ensuring the suitability of potential parents. Using filthy lucre to bypass this, results in freak shows like we saw with that North Wales couple recently.
John Adlington, UK

Surrogacy must be made illegal

Leon, Manchester, UK
Surrogacy is all wrong. A woman shouldn't be allowed to carry a baby for another couple. It is just another example of human beings being manufactured for selfish couples by the machines that are greedy women. Pregnancy is a time in which expectant mothers anticipate the arrival of a new life in this world - it is not the process in which babies are made to order. If couples can't have children of their own they should adopt, as there are plenty of children out there without families who need loving homes. Surrogacy must be made illegal to protect vulnerable women, childless couples and above all, our children.
Leon, Manchester, UK

Surrogacy is a blessing, and a selfless gift from a compassionate woman who is able to carry a child for an infertile one. We are currently pregnant via a gestational surrogate and ever so thankful.
Dena, Texas USA

The three of them are a disgrace

Douglas Kay, USA
The children should be put up for adoption, the mother and the couple who started this catastrophe should have no rights to the children they have proven to be unworthy of such a huge responsibility which parenthood brings. The three of them are a disgrace to the human race.
Douglas Kay, USA

Speaking as a three-time surrogate, there are FAR too many misconceptions being discussed here to correct in one go. Grotesque? What is grotesque in carrying the baby of a couple that have been trying for 20 years and NEVER achieved a pregnancy, or the baby of a lady that has had 12 miscarriages, or as I am now doing, the baby of a lovely lady that lost her unborn child and had an emergency hysterectomy to save her life? I could go on but won't. If anyone wants to ask questions of someone that actually knows what she's talking about...feel free.
Eliza, Midlands, UK

Perhaps before some of you start blasting surrogacy as "immoral," you should consider the scores of couples who cannot bear children -- usually for medical reasons that are beyond their control. If the parents have, indeed, failed to live up to their contractual obligation, then Helen should do what anyone does when a contract is breeched. But creating a media hurricane is a certain way to gain profit for yourself, one way or another, isn't it? And if the concern is truly for that of the unborn children, as it should be, then we wouldn't even be discussing this right now.
A.T., Texas, USA

"Sell parental rights"? I can't believe somebody said that.
Graham, UK

The whole mess created by this contractual dispute will hopefully serve as a harsh lesson to anyone wishing to delve into the grotesque act that is surrogacy.
AH, Scotland

It really appals me that children are treated by adults in this way

Hope, Mesa, USA
It really appals me that children are treated by adults in this way. When we have children it is our responsibility to raise them with love and understanding. It is not a right to have children! We do not pick and choose our children; we get what is given to us! I myself cannot have children and because I cannot fathom another woman carrying my child, I look forward to the day that I can adopt a child that needs my love and support. Parenthood is about giving yourself to creating the future. I feel that none of these so-called adults should have custody of these children. There are far too many couples out there that can open their hearts to these 2 children and give them the love and support that they will need in life.
Hope, Mesa, USA

Blaming California for surrogacy seems a bit much (Rod McEwen, Greenock). The UK invented IVF, wasn't English woman Kim Cotton the first surrogate mother? and Helen Beasley herself is English. Miss Beasley seems particularly adept at playing the media and legal games involved, and I suggest we have nothing to learn from the Americans in this squalid story. Poor babies.
J.Q, London

The rights belong to the mother

Tom OD, Leicester, UK
The rights belong to the mother, after all it is her child AND she hasn't been paid for it anyway. If she thinks that the adoptive parents are unsuitable then the child should not go to them, end of story.
Tom OD, Leicester, UK

If one couple are prepared to pay for a child, and a woman is prepared to give birth and then sell the baby, then neither is fit to be a parent. The babies should be cared for by the authorities from birth until a suitable family is found to adopt them.
Keith, UK

This seems to be happening more often in the US, except each time the scenario seems to be more ridiculous than the previous. Funny how it always seems to be in California. All this does, is to make a mockery of the US legal system, and I'm sure it embarrasses the majority of US citizens. But then again it's up to the US electorate to stand up and say 'No more of this trade in babies'.
Rod McEwen, Greenock, Scotland

The buying and selling of children has occurred throughout Europe for centuries

Linda, New York, USA
To Richard, Ex-pat Germany, this matter has nothing to do with Americanism. The buying and selling of children has occurred throughout Europe for centuries, in the forms of poverty, serfdom and slavery - long before America was a country. Please stop bashing Americans and blaming America for every ill and problem under sun. If you have your facts straight you won't have to make things up to bolster your point.
Linda, New York, USA

Why should either have any rights? They are both as bad as each other except one wants what the other has!
K. Brook, Wales, UK

I think you should be allowed to sell anything that is yours. If it is your baby you should be able to sell it. It is not the government's baby, it is yours.
Craig, England

Don't we have enough unwanted children on this planet?

Jasmine Guha, Texas, USA
Don't we have enough unwanted children on this planet? Why aren't we, the public, pushing governments for better and less bureaucratic adoption procedures? As for surrogacy, I think it is wrong and immoral. Producing babies for money is appalling to me and doesn't appear to be putting the child's interests first, which is surely what all responsible parents should be doing.
Jasmine Guha, Texas, USA

How disgusting! Could the couple in question do any more refining in their "choice"? What if the child isn't the EXACT colour that they wanted? What if the hairstyle is wrong? What if the child is unfortunate to have a deformity? Should they return it to the vendor? This bargaining with human life should be abolished asap, I think that the fact that this is happening is completely outrageous. I'm totally dumbstruck.
Christopher Laird, Tokyo, Japan

It's yet another sign of the slippery slide to Americanism that the UK seems to be destined for. We never hear of any cases like this in the rest of Europe. The UK is going the way of 'everything has a price' and the moral and social responsibility is being forgotten (or sold) in preference for making a quick buck.
Richard, Ex-pat Germany

I think the surrogate is right to demand parental rights to be transferred to her

Jason Channing, Reading, UK
I think the surrogate is right to demand parental rights to be transferred to her. She has offered to incubate a child for a couple who are unable to do so. When they find out it's twins, they want to run and back out of a responsibility that they should be prepared to accept. If an ordinary couple conceive twins naturally and decide that's one baby too much, they would be strung up for suggesting they will terminate them or worse 'sell them on'. This American couple are clearly not fit to be parents and are too irresponsible to be even considered as such. People like this should undergo the same checks that prospective adopters do.
Jason Channing, Reading, UK

It makes me very angry when I see people trying to buy children like this. Have they though of adopting unwanted but loveable children from official sources? If not, is it because they are not considered suitable for some reason?
Martin Leighton, London, England

The adoption of orphaned children is one thing but the made-to-order fashion of surrogacy is surely not right. If nature does not allow you to have a child, adopt an existing "fledgling". Don't create another child whose manufactured second-hand nature is going to cause it problems later in life.
Jesse, Sydney, Australia

No one should benefit financially from the children

Jo, London, UK
At the end of the day you have to figure what is best for the children. Who would want to be brought up by parents that killed your twin? I agree that no one should benefit financially from the children, they aren't the latest possession.
Jo, London, UK

Surely there is a way to make this sort of behaviour by a half-hearted couple actionable as manslaughter in a human rights court. We could eliminate overnight the cheap attitude displayed by some towards this very serious commitment.
Andrew B, Crawley, England

Spare a thought for Miss Beasley's young son. It cannot be easy to see your mother discussing how she was too late to kill one baby she is carrying and now has to negotiate a sale of them both. Siblings of surrogate mothers often feel, not surprisingly, very insecure.
Josephine, London

This Californian couple have effectively erased any sympathy for their childlessness

RM, South Sudan/Canada
The desire of any couple to have children is a natural drive. But since this Californian couple have contradicted themselves by asking the surrogate mother to abort, they've effectively erased any sympathy for their childlessness. If I'm not mistaken, I think the agreement spells out that "if more than one egg is fertilized", it would be necessary to abort; but did they know that twins can arise even from a single egg? And if they don't want two children, why not simply let Ms Beasley put the other one up for adoption? This is a pathetic portrayal of our society's obsession with consumerism. It's time people gave respect for human life and treated it with dignity.
RM, South Sudan/Canada

Rights? Suitability? Everyone thinks they know a solution. There are no golden rules and even suitability of parents is too simple. What if my neighbour suddenly claims I am not suitable to bring up my children? Can they make a claim on my children because they are more suitable? The moment we start to simplify ethical dilemmas and make legislation based on simplification, is when injustice is born. Every case must be examined on its own merits, without preconditions.
Paolo, London, UK

Women as nothing more than a womb for rent is so demeaning, but that is what surrogacy is all about, we should all wake up to that reality. The US couple in this case just went a bit further than normal, asking the owner (woman) of the womb to kill one of the preborn children in it. The problem in this story is surrogacy itself. Women and children should never be viewed as objects.
SM, London, UK

Sadly the state should look after these children

Angus, Scotland
Sadly the state should look after these children. The whole sorry lot who have concocted this situation for financial gain should be forced to pay for the children's upbringing without access. None can call themselves parents and should have no rights at all.
Angus, Scotland

Surrogacy should never happen. Because it is an act of adultery carrying someone's sperm who is not the husband. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) considered the placing a sperm in a womb of a woman who is not the wife of the owner of the sperm as an adultery. That could also mean artificial insemination and surrogacy. According to Islam, the mother is the one who gives birth to a child and in the absence of legal husband she is in charge. British government should protect the surrogate mother.
Dr Issam Ghannam, UK

I believe that surrogacy is fundamentally wrong

The wishes of either set of "parents" are, I think, largely irrelevant. The best interests of the children are the only concern here. Having said that, I believe that surrogacy is fundamentally wrong. Childless couples should accept that they will not have children. Children are a privilege, not a right. If you are meant to have children then it will happen naturally.

It's a sign of the unfortunate influence of American culture that everyone is obsessed about "rights". Whatever happened to responsibilities?
Rustam Roy, London, England

How interesting that the 'mother' of the twins in this case says she does not want the Californian couple to make any money out of the babies - yet she was quite happy to be a 'rent-a-womb' for them in the first place and receive $20,000 for having a baby.
Deborah, London, UK

Rights lie with the children and should remain with the children rights

Sharon B, London, UK
Regardless of what happens British law is designed solely for the protection of the child's interests. If it is seen that either party is acting against the best interests of the children they will lose any parental rights to them and the decision lies solely in the hands of a judge. This seems to be the best way when such selfish and abhorrent individuals enter into schemes such as this one producing disastrous results for the as yet unborn children. Rights lie with the children and should remain with the children.
Sharon B, London, UK

I think that if the couple really wanted children they would take both babies. As they only wanted one baby it makes me suspect that the child isn't really required to be part of a loving family - it is just another accessory like a house or car that every couple feel that they need. As for Catriona's comments, I feel I could easily be a surrogate mother if the money was right and I would have no second thoughts about giving up the baby as I have no maternal instincts at all.
Lisa, Newcastle, UK

All parties in this affair come across as disgustingly selfish and mercenary. People who should never have anything to do with children. Society has a duty to protect children, wherever they may be or come from, from the excesses of individual citizens. The sort of exploitation identified by this case can only be controlled within the laws of a single country. International deals over surrogate births should be outlawed.
Andrew, Bolton, UK

The parental rights should go to the person most capable of looking after the children

Alex Banks, UK, living in France
It's obvious. The parental rights should go to the person most capable of looking after the children. Seeing as the Californian couple want her to terminate one of the unborn children, they obviously do not value children enough to be fit parents. Mrs Beasley should be given parental rights. If she wants to give them up for adoption (she never expected to keep them after all) then fair enough. I wonder what explanation the American couple will give when their biological children eventually come looking for answers though?
Alex Banks, UK, living in France

Not to worry - we will have cloning soon and rights of surrogate mothers will be irrelevant.
John, UK

The basic problem is that society now seems to recognise a "right" for people to have children. There is no such right. Children are not born for the personal satisfaction or convenience of the parents. Children are human beings in their own right, towards whom the adult world has responsibilities. Seen in this light, surrogate parenthood is undesirable in principle. However, since it is technically feasible there is no doubt that there will be many such cases in the future. Regulation by law, preferably by international treaty, is therefore needed. I would suggest that no general decision be taken on whether the surrogate mother or the genetic parents are "entitled" to the child. It should be left to the courts in each individual case to give a decision based solely on the interests of the child.
Peter, Netherlands

It's always difficult to say who should have rights

Shalini Asregadoo, UK
Being such an emotive issue it's always difficult to say who should have rights. In this case, I believe Miss Beasley should. If this American couple think nothing of terminating one life, should they really have the right to bring up a child?
Shalini Asregadoo, UK

I think it is foolish and irresponsible, to purchase babies on the internet for tens of thousands of pounds. It is a sign of our sick consumer lifestyle that people today seem to think that everything should be purchased on the internet.
Alvin Otter, UK

The biological parents of a child have complete rights over him and no one else can dictate terms. Secondly, since when did the life of a human being become a commodity for transaction? Human life is sacred and must be given the respect it deserves - something a law put in place can achieve.
Lilian Kimeto, Kenya

How will these children react in the future when they are informed of their background?

David Procter, Port Hawkesbury, Canada
Where is the compassion nowadays? Miss Beasley(Beastly?) is as bad as the couple. It is as though they are dealing in a commodity but with PR thrown in. Beasley probably expects to recoup her costs and more from the media payouts. I was adopted myself but in the traditional manner. How will these children react in the future when they are informed of their background?
David Procter, Port Hawkesbury, Canada

Now that our children have been reduced into mere products to be purchased online, fresh from the womb, etc, why not treat this 'product' the same way as others? A contract has been entered into and it must be respected. Personally I find buying a baby distasteful. However, it has become so difficult and time- consuming to adopt that childless people are forced to use whatever means available to have that wonderful little baby. As a woman I do sympathise but my womb will only ever "produce" for myself.
Satu, England

It is absurd to consider giving rights to this couple. They have attempted to force the surrogate mother to abort a healthy child purely because they felt inconvenienced by the fact she is carrying twins instead of a single child. These are not the sort of people who, to me, show the kind of yearning for a child that a worthy parent would. Without wishing to sound too callous, perhaps there is a strange sense of justice in their being infertile. The mother should be allowed to select suitable parents for these children, a couple who will not be "put out" by the fact there are two rather than one.
Shaun Prior, Scotland

This sounds like a messy situation and the buying and selling of life, in this case babies, goes back to the slave trade. The hard facts to me should be dealing with the two main characters, namely the mother (albeit through surrogacy) and the father who (via whichever means) impregnated her. As for making money from this subject, I'd have thought "cash for babies" has been pretty well exhausted by the media these days.
Colin, Netherlands

All parties are being selfish and irresponsible

Paul Atkins, Milton Keynes
All parties are being selfish and irresponsible. I find it strange that the British mother is saying that she does not want the American couple to get any money out of the sale of the children, yet she was going to "sell" them in the first place. You do not have a right to have a child, it is a gift of nature.
Paul Atkins, Milton Keynes

The parental rights in this case clearly lie with the natural parent of the child, the father. None of the other parties have any blood-tie to the child. However, in cases where children are not being treated properly, the authorities have the right to take children into care. This is what should happen here. The child should be given free of charge to a couple who view it as a human being and not a possession to fight over.
Fay, Aberdeen, UK

As one half of a childless couple, I would hate to see people who wish to have a child through surrogacy suffer, but I am totally at a loss as to how any prospective mother, adoptive or otherwise could deliberately abort a child, for no reason other than twins would be inconvenient!!! For these people to then make a profit through the sale of the twins is disgusting. I hope that common decency prevails and allows Helen Beasley to find alternative parents for the children (without making any profit by their adoption). So my answer is a definite yes, there should be some international rules laid down.
Elsie, England

The only person who has any rights is the woman whose body is being used in this way although I think she was stupid to act as a surrogate mother in the first place. How any woman thinks she can remove herself from the babies she is carrying is beyond me!!
Catriona, Edinburgh, Scotland

See also:

14 Aug 01 | Health
US surrogacy row parents hit back
11 Aug 01 | Health
UK laws favour surrogate mothers
21 Jan 00 | Health
Infertile woman loses court claim
16 Feb 01 | Health
Internet rush to buy human eggs
20 Dec 99 | Health
Fight for dead man's sperm
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