LOS ANGELES—A bizarre courtroom decision in Orange County, Calif., has left two-year-old Jaycee Buzzanca without legal parents.
Two years ago Jaycee's would be parents, John and Luanne Buzzanca, unable to conceive a child and frustrated with adoption attempts that fell through at the last minute, opted for in vitro fertilization using anonymous donor sperm, donor egg, and a surrogate mother. One month before the baby was born, the couple divorced and Luanne, taking custody of the baby, sued her ex-husband for child support.
Recently, in a story too astonishing to seem true, the trial court upheld the ex-husband's defense that the child was not legally his because a court could not establish that she was a “child of the marriage.”
The case will go before a California appeals court in January, but until then Jaycee is left without legal parents.
She exists today because of contractual agreements made by the Buzzancas. Yet if these agreements don't make John Buzzanca her legal father, who are her legal parents?
The anonymous donors of the initial sperm and egg could perhaps be considered her biological parents. And the surrogate mother in northern California, Pamela Snell, who was paid to carry her to term might have some claim of parenthood too. In fact, Snell initially filed court papers seeking custody of Jaycee, claiming she had agreed to deliver the child to loving parents, not to a couple fighting over child responsibilities. She has since withdrawn her suit.
Meanwhile, Jaycee, innocent of the bizarre circumstances surrounding her birth, continues to live with the woman who wants to retain custody, Luanne Buzzanca.
Luanne's attorney, Santa Ana, Calif. based Robert Walmsley, called the case “very disturbing, in the sense that a child is potentially left without legal parents.”
Attorney Jeffrey Doeringer, who represents the little girl, agrees, writing in his appeal that the legal questions involved in this case will be felt “more heavily by Jaycee and others like her, brought into this world by methods of advanced medical and technical achievements.”
Walmsley believes, as many do, that “until we have legislative guidance in this area [of surrogacy arrangements], the courts are going to be left to flounder and create laws based on each individual case.” He warns that letting courts “write” law is dangerous business, a warning familiar to Catholics and pro-life advocates who still battle with the consequences of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.
Attorneys such as Walmsley want to see legislative structure, such as counseling, made mandatory prior to confirming a surrogacy agreement.
“It's a commitment—like a marriage,” Walmsley explained. He believes that safeguards such as discussing the significance, ramifications, and consequences of the commitment up front will avoid a lot of problems after a child has been conceived.
The Church however has long provided a much more fundamental response to the increasing ethical complexities engendered by limitless experiments in the creation of human life.
“This case [in Calif.] illustrates the wisdom of the 1987 Vatican document on reproductive technologies called Donum Vitae (Gift of Life),” said Dr. John Haas, a moral theologian and president of the Pope John XXIII Medical Moral Research and Education Center in Boston, Mass.
The Center, in conjunction with the Knights of Columbus, hosts an annual conference on advances in medical ethics for the bishops of the United States, Canada, and Latin America.
“Donum Vitae,” Haas continued, “said that children have a right to come into being by virtue of an act of love of a husband and wife. The child has a right to nurture, love, and support from its parents.
“One of the dreadful things happening in our society is that human beings are reduced to products. We are manufacturing human beings and the Church has always insisted that human beings can't be manufactured. This situation [in Calif.] places the child at the whim of others' decisions. It is ethical relativism carried to its extreme.”
Dr. Janet Smith, professor of philosophy at the University of Dallas and an authority on the 1968 papal encyclical Humane Vitae (On Human Life), agrees. “While all of us can be very sympathetic to couples who have problems with infertility and their desire to have a child of their own, we have to see what ludicrous lengths this has gone to. This woman [in Calif.] has adopted a baby, which she has purchased. She and her ex-husband have purchased the sperm and the egg and the uterus, as opposed to reaching out and offering a home to an existing child who needs a home.
“There's a kind of madness here, obviously. In fact, the Church says that if you start to get really bizarre and ludicrous consequences from certain actions, then that's a pretty good sign that the actions themselves are not in accord with God's will. The Church clearly teaches that a man and woman have the moral right to be mother and father biologically only by each other. To do it any other way is to violate the moral law. So, there have been at least three violations of the moral law in this case.”
Added Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the Secretariat for Pro-Life activities at the National Conference of Catholic Bishops: “In vitro is a manufacturing procedure, it treats the embryo like an object. That leads to further abuses down the road. In many in vitro fertilization programs there's a lot of destroying and discarding of human embryos. Many are discarded because they are extra or they are seen as low quality. The very procedure [of artificial insemination] invites these physicians to treat embryos almost cavalierly; you are objectifying the human person in the lab as something to be worked upon.
“Donum Vitae completely excluded any use of donor egg or donor sperm to reproduce. You have a very different situation when you have an infertile couple who choose to adopt a child,” continued Doerflinger, “because in the case of adoption a child's bond with his or her biological parents is already broken. The parents are unable or unwilling to act as parents and the infertile couple can choose to become the parents of this child as their own. That is not the same as planning from the outset the meaning of your parenthood by incorporating third parties into the process.”
Karen Walker is based in Corona Del Mar, Calif.