Just before Mother’s Day, CNN newscaster Anderson Cooper, who is openly gay and super-rich, announced that he “became a father.” Named Wyatt, Cooper’s son will probably never celebrate Mother’s Day.
The irony was not lost on celebrated novelist Joyce Carol Oates, who tweeted:
“You’d think that dear Anderson was both father and mother (how strange for the mother who’d been pregnant for 9 months, delivered a baby, presented Anderson with the baby and is now gone”).
This unleashed a torrent of abuse on Twitter. Oates was called “homophobic,” “vile” and “loony tunes.” Challenge a sacred cow of the Sexual Revolution and its unthinking acolytes get hysterical. But Joyce Carol Oates is more correct than her critics. This surrogacy arrangement erases both the gestational mother and the genetic mother.
The son of heiress Gloria Vanderbilt had baby Wyatt with an unnamed surrogate. While Cooper expressed eternal gratitude to her, she has no right to the child she carried for nine months and will probably never see again. Yes, he says he is happy to have her and her whole family as part of his family. But when push comes to shove (as it often does in these cases) she has no legal rights whatsoever.
That’s just the gestational mother. Meanwhile, the genetic mother, most likely a completely different person, has also been completely erased. The woman who sold her eggs so that Cooper could “become a father” is a legal stranger to Wyatt. He may have her eyes or her dimples or her freckles. But this woman, too, is out of the picture.
Cooper had a partner, Benjamin Maisani, but they parted company in 2018. Cooper told People magazine, “Benjamin is going to be a co-parent to Wyatt, even though we’re not together anymore, but, you know, he's my family and I want him to be Wyatt's family, as well.”
Will this be in Cooper’s home, Maisani’s home or neutral territory? I have to wonder, as well, what Maisani’s legal status will be. Is he on little Wyatt’s birth certificate? Will the family court recognize Maisani as “family,” in the event of a dispute over Wyatt’s care? These blissful “alternative families” have a way of breaking down under the daily stress of parenting.
But maybe there won’t be too much stress. The CNN anchor announced that he will not take parental leave. He’s just too busy covering the coronavirus pandemic. Presumably, there is a nanny in the picture who will handle all that daily stress and experience the daily joys of parenthood.
Let's tally up the scorecard. Cooper paid to have “his baby” grown in the body of a stranger. Despite the co-parenting announcement, for all intents and purposes, Wyatt will grow up in a single-parent family. In fact, he will grow up in a pre-divorced family. The one and only genetic parent in Wyatt’s life, his father, is too busy to take time out of his hectic schedule to be with him as a newborn. And in all likelihood, there will never be a person the child can call a mother in his life.
Meanwhile, my fellow Catholics, we can take pride in our Church’s foresight and wisdom. The Church asks us to consider, “What is owed to the child?” The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, headed by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, issued an “Instruction on respect for human life,” called by its Latin title, Donum Vitae. In it, he makes these still pertinent observations:
Spouses mutually express their personal love in the ‘language of the body’ which clearly involves both ‘spousal meanings’ and parental ones. The conjugal act is an act that is inseparably corporal and spiritual. It is in their bodies and through their bodies that the spouses consummate their marriage and are able to become father and mother. In order to respect the language of their bodies and their natural generosity, the procreation of a person must be the fruit and the result of married love.
The child is the embodiment of the parents’ love for each other. Every person has the right to come into existence as the result of the physical and spiritual union of his or her natural parents. The body matters. The identity of the parents matters. The love of the parents for each other matters.
In 1987, when Cardinal Ratzinger wrote this document, “gay parenting” was not even on the horizon. Yet the principles laid down in this document take on an added urgency in today’s world.
The child of a surrogacy arrangement is certainly not the embodiment of his or her parents’ love. Even in the best of circumstances, surrogacy is in inherently unfair and dangerous. A woman is paid for her eggs. Another woman is paid to carry a child to term. After birth, the gestational mother is contractually obligated to surrender the child to the “commissioning parents.” In other words, the rich and powerful exploit women who are neither.
Other problems abound.
If the doctor implants multiple embryos, hoping some of them will survive, the surrogate is sometimes contractually obligated to do “selective abortion” on some of the babies. What happens to the extra embryos who are created but not implanted? Some of them are frozen indefinitely, destroyed immediately or donated for research.
There are also medical risks involved for the children. As I documented a few years ago, babies conceived through in vitro fertilization are at elevated risk of premature birth, low birth weight, cerebral palsy and other conditions. When I did the research for this pamphlet, I asked myself, “do the fertility clinics customarily tell their patients about these risks?” I still don’t know the answer to that.
Cooper paid for an egg. He paid for womb rental. He is paying for the bulk of the hands-on care for the child. Children have become commodities, bought and sold on the open market.
What’s love got to do with it? Apparently, not much.
Jennifer Roback Morse, Ph.D. is the founder and president of the Ruth Institute, an international interfaith coalition to defend the family and build a civilization of love. She authored the Ruth Institute’s pamphlet, “Children and Donor Conception and Assisted Reproduction.”