Thursday, October 06, 2005

gestational agreement

What a term, huh? It comes up repeatedly in the draft of a bill Indiana state senator Patricia Miller (R) is working up. The bill, if passed, will make "unauthorized artificial reproduction" a felony. Yes, it sounds Orwellian to me too. It makes Echidne, who got it from Amanda at Pandagon who in turn got it from Kos, think of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale.

Now, what exactly constitutes "unauthorized artificial reproduction?" Are you ready for this? Attempting to have a baby using assisted reproductive technology (ART) and donor gametes if you are not married.

Really. One man, one woman. Married to each other. No single women, no single men, no gay couples of any flavor. Non-married people using ART could face a Class B misdemeanor charge ($1,000 fine and up to 180 days in jail), doctors performing ART on non-married people could face the same charge, and people who lie about it could face an even heavier one (class A misdemeanor).

There's more. If this bill passes, prospective parents (the term the bill uses is "intended") will need to get a certificate stating that they've been cleared to have a child using ART. In order to get the certificate, you have to undergo the same process prospective adoptive parents do--in other words, a home study conducted by a state-licensed social worker. I used to work for an adoption agency, and let me tell you, this is one serious document. It involves a series of home visits, where the social worker goes around and checks out where all the power outlets are. That kind of detail. Letters of recommendation from people who have known the prospective family for at least x years. Tax returns for the past few years. Written statements from the prospective family on their values, beliefs, activities, and why they're trying to adopt. Background checks. Fingerprints. Criminal record. Everything.

When I first read Echidne's post, I felt like I'd gone down the rabbit hole. Reading the actual document helped, a little, but it's still scary. Because I see what Miller is trying to do, and some of it I agree with. There are measures in the draft proposal that would go a long way towards protecting the parties involved. For example, if a "gestational mother" (surrogate) is unmarried when the agreement is made, and then she gets married, her new husband has no legal claim on the child. The bill would mandate psychological counseling for the gestational mother, which makes more sense to me than just letting her twist in the wind before/during/after delivery. And there are many clauses designed to clarify to whom the child "belongs", which makes sense in light of how many ugly scenes have taken place with people changing their minds and getting into nasty, protracted custody battles (although to the best of my limited knowledge, this is more of an issue with adoption than with surrogacy.)

And I'm not even that horrified by the home study, although I think it puts more strain on people who have got to be pretty miserable anyway, considering the trauma of infertility. Yes, the part about detailing your faith-based activities makes me a little nervous--just as it does when we're talking about adoption. Although in my experience, social workers were much more interested in the prospective family's demonstrated emotional and financial stability than their faith. And, it should be noted, a prospective adoptive parent's marital status is not an issue in many places.

Senator Miller's got an interesting history. A Methodist active in her church, mother of two and grandmother of four, she's authored a lot of bills. One, this year's SB76,
Requires a health care provider to provide a pregnant woman with information regarding the availability of ultrasound imaging and auscultation of heart tones of a fetus before performing an abortion on the pregnant woman. Allows a pregnant woman to view the fetal ultrasound imaging and hear the auscultation of the fetal heart tone before an abortion is performed.

Apparently Miller believes it's the state's job to make absolutely sure a pregnant woman knows that she is killing a living being.

She's also introduced some measures I agree with, such as increasing the ability of the indigent to get hospital care and getting the state secretary of family and social services to get proactive about long term care. It's clear from the list of bills she's either written or sponsored that she genuinely cares about the health of Indianians--from rubella to cheerleading safety to when doctors can prescribe Ritalin. But much of this proposal--besides the way it protects the gestational mother and clarifies parentage--is off-base, and does not support the health and wellbeing of Miller's constituency.

Because she's letting what looks an awful lot like a faith-based agenda get in the way of examining, clearly, how we make healthy families. She's come out and said that the point of this bill is to make sure that only married couples can use ART; she cites research that suggests that the children of married male-female couples are happier than other sorts of children. Has she seen the research that contradicts this finding? That suggests that the children of gay couple, lesbian couples, single parents can be just as happy and well-adjusted?

Truthfully, I wouldn't mind seeing everyone who wants to have children go through something like a home study. Before you brand me a eugenicist, let me clarify: I believe everyone who wants kids should be called upon to examine their life with the kind of care a home study requires. I think it could save a lot of heartbreak down the road if prospective parents had to be able to explain why they wanted kids, how they planned to take care of them, and what sort of network would be in place to support the family. But I digress.

The point is that this is one scary concept, and opens up scarier ones. Miller's trying to help--I believe she really thinks she's doing the right thing to protect kids--but this is an ugly, homophobic, and narrow-minded way to go about it.

edit: Typical. I exert myself to write something a little more complex than the usual navel-gazing or silliness and then it becomes immediately obsolete. As Bob (thanks Bob! Good luck on the job!) has so helpfully noted, Senator Miller withdrew this draft on Wednesday because the issue was proving "too complex". But I will swallow my disappointment at my point being academic in light of the fact that this thing needed to go down, and it did.