Biotechnology and Culture: Bodies, Anxieties, Ethics

By Paul E. Brodwin | Go to book overview

Chapter 4
Mediating Intimacy
Black Surrogate Mothers and the Law

DEBORAH GRAYSON

In January 1990, Mark Calvert and Crispina Calvert, a middle-class couple of white and Filipino ancestry, hired Anna Johnson, a working-class woman of African-American and European descent, to serve as their gestational surrogate. In their arrangement, the Calverts were to pay Johnson $10,000 plus medical fees not covered by insurance. They also agreed to purchase a $200,000 life insurance policy for Johnson, who at the time had a fouryear-old daughter, and pledged to provide her with emotional support. For her part, Johnson consented to allow herself to be implanted with the zygote formed from Mark Calvert’s sperm and Crispina Calvert’s egg. Pursuant to the terms of the contract, Johnson agreed to carry the resulting fetus to term and, upon its birth, to relinquish the baby and “all parental rights” to the Calverts (Anna 372). During the time of the contract and before the child was born, relations between Johnson and the Calverts began to break down. By August 1990, when she was eight months pregnant, Johnson announced that she would file suit against the Calverts. In her lawsuit, Johnson sought to terminate her contract and to be declared the baby’s legal parent. This lawsuit marked the first time that a surrogate mother without a genetic link to the child she had carried fought for custody of that child (see Allen, “Black”). In September 1990, Anna Johnson gave birth to a baby boy. The next month, Judge Richard Parslow ruled that she had no rights whatsoever to the child she had delivered. Comparing Johnson’s role in the birth of baby Christopher to those of a foster mother and a wet nurse, Parslow stated that the surrogate contract that Johnson had signed was enforceable, terminated Johnson’s temporary visitation rights, and awarded full custody of baby Christopher to the Calverts.1 Both the California Court of Appeals and the California Supreme Court upheld Judge Parslow’s ruling, arguing that Johnson had neither a legal claim nor maternal rights to the infant. In October 1993, the supreme court refused to hear the case, a move that assured the Calverts full custody of the baby.2

Can a woman be the mother of a child with whom she has no genetic connection—as was the case for Johnson? Or does the genetic material of the egg and the sperm donated to create the child determine who its natu-

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