Britain’s first case of kind, in which man’s son is also legally his brother, raises profound ethical questions
A MOTHER has helped her 24-year-old son become a father by carrying his child as a surrogate. In the procedure, the first of its kind, Anne-Marie Casson, 46, became pregnant using a donor egg fertilised by her son Kyle’s sperm.
Kyle, gay and single, had wanted to be a father for some considerable time.
After surrogacy clinics across Britain turned him away, and a woman relative who had volunteered to be the carrier developed medical difficulties, Casson and her husband, Alan, decided she should step in and be the surrogate mother.
A family court judge ruled the situation was entirely lawful and Kyle has been allowed to adopt the baby – his son but also, legally, his brother.
Lawyers point out that family members are increasingly acting as surrogates in the UK, but the Cassons’ case is unique: Kyle is the first single man in the country to have a child through surrogacy and the first to use his mother as the carrier.
“I cried and cried,” Kyle said, describing his happiness at his son Miles’s birth. “I could not believe it.”
Kyle’s longing to be a father highlights issues affecting gay men and women – but also the one in six heterosexual couples in Britain who have problems conceiving.
They will know first-hand the plight of a young person desperate to be a parent.
Medical advances have delivered many of these would-be parents from their misery.
Andrew Solomon, award-winning author of Far From the Tree, a book about conventional and unconventional families, tells how, as a young gay man, he was “riven by my agony at having to choose between my integrity and the urgent wish for children”.
He and his partner, John Habich, had their son with donor eggs via a surrogate mother, Laura – a friend of Habich’s and one half of a lesbian couple whose own two-child family Habich enabled by donating sperm to them.
Solomon, meanwhile, had donated sperm to father a daughter, via in-vitro fertilisation, with a friend, Blaine, who is bringing the child up with her (male) partner in Texas.
Solomon sees surrogacy as proof of progress: Britain has developed into a more just and caring society that helps anyone who longs to be a parent become one.
And yet, the Cassons’ case has ignited huge controversy. The procedure may have taken place in the sterile surroundings of an IVF lab, but the participants’ consanguinity raises the spectre of one of the few remaining taboos – incest.
Twitter reaction to the story ranged from “nothing wrong with this” to “gross”, “disgusting” and “selfish”.
Social policy analyst Jill Kirby finds it “very disturbing that any mother would consider it healthy or appropriate to give birth to her son’s child”.
“What is even more worrying is that the high court has granted the son an adoption order, partly based on the ‘closeness’ of the relationship between the family members involved,” Kirby said.
Casson countered these attacks by saying the baby, Miles, “is not biologically tied to me, other than he’s my grandson”.
She and Kyle said friends had been overwhelmingly supportive.
Surrogacy cases have increased dramatically over the past few years. In 2012, 167 babies were registered in Britain as born to a surrogate parent. This marks a huge increase from 2007, when only 47 parental orders were filed to register a baby born through surrogacy, according to figures from the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service.
The upward trend is continuing: in the first month of last year, 24 babies were registered to British parents after a surrogacy.
Celebrities from Elton John to Nicole Kidman have turned to surrogacy to have their children. And Mary Portas, the retail consultant whose Secret Shopper programme is broadcast on Channel 4, made headlines recently when her wife, Melanie Rickey, conceived a son from Mary’s brother’s sperm.
Lawyer Natalie Gamble, whose firm was involved in the Cassons’ case, said surrogacy using close family members had become commonplace.
“UK law, which does not permit advertising for a surrogate or for a surrogate to offer her services, is pushing couples to look among family members for surrogacy.”
Many childless couples seek help abroad. But international surrogacy also raises ethical questions, as shown by the recent case of Gammy, a baby with Down’s syndrome born to a Thai surrogate and allegedly left behind by the intended Australian parents.
For Gamble, the only issue raised by the Cassons’ case is a legal one. “UK law does not allow singles, like the son [Kyle] in this case, to apply for a parental order, or birth certificate; so the young man had to apply for an adoption order instead.”
Gamble is campaigning to change the law, which she feels condemns children to forfeit “a UK birth certificate which reflects their true parentage”. But the Cassons’ case raises profound ethical questions too. In a world where anyone can conceive, the family will become a notion so confused that children will struggle to understand the crucial relationships most of us can take for granted.
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) was founded in 1991. Its remit is to ensure reproductive procedures are ethical and in the best interests of the child. But critics have repeatedly questioned its ability to oversee what goes on in the 77 licensed clinics in the UK.
Commercial surrogacy raises the prospect of a rent-a-womb industry. Real, lifelong mothering, which engages with children as cherished beings rather than commercial assets, no longer fits in the marketplace of surrogate mommies.
But even when money is not involved, surrogacy raises concerns.
Policy-makers, politicians and psychologists agree the family is the building block of a flourishing society.
Can our traditional notion of “the family”, already stretched to include cohabitation, divorce, step-families and gay marriage, also encompass surrogacy cases where a mother and son have a baby together?
“High-tech interventions in reproduction are not necessarily antithetical to the forging of stable, loving relations,” psychologist Fergus Greer claims.
“As long as the child bonds with its primary carer, feels secure and loved, it will do well, no matter how unconventional its conception.”
– The Telegraph