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The Not-So-Debatable Debate – Who is a Mother?

Science, (from Latin Scientia, meaning “knowledge”) is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe.

Science was that arena of the intellectual, devoid of emotions, feeling, not right and not wrong either, just as it is – scientific. An objective outlook of the world. We looked at the snake as an organism that forms an integral part of the ecosystem and not as the venomous viper that can kill with a bite. We saw only the physiology and anatomy of the living human, even if he is Hitler. We saw the dead body as a cadaver for examination and not the corpse to run from or to weep over. Everything was only just an object of study.

However, not until we were rudely reminded that humans were not just robots for professional study. Science made the guns, but the guns were used to kill humans. That seemed to be ‘morally’ wrong. Halt! That adverb was foreign to science. It drew into mainstream science everything human and sentimental, everything that made science less scientific. Science as a discipline could remain scientific but as long as it was being brought into the circle of human life, it had to be reined in; given limits. So was birthed the concept of ethics in scientific advancements, an issue of being ethically wrong or right. And such issues have been debated since.


The hard realization is that science has long crossed such boundaries and the questions we should be grappling with seem not to be just a matter of ‘is this ethically right or wrong?’ They are questions that don’t seem to demand answers but only attempt to inform us that we have brought from our own loins a necessary evil that will challenge the very concept of life and its living.

We applauded science when it developed those wonderful techniques of artificial insemination and in-vitro fertilization. And yes, the applause was deserved. It did not take too long for the human to be drawn into the scientific breakthrough in the form of surrogacy, an arrangement in which a woman carries and delivers a child for another couple or person. This woman, the surrogate mother, may be the child’s genetic mother (called traditional surrogacy), or she may be genetically unrelated to the child (called gestational surrogacy).

Indeed, a wonderful solution to fill the void for couples who desperately want children but might not have the capacity to produce children, be it inability to produce sperms, the absence of a womb that can carry the baby to term, or lack of a womb at all. However, this just scratches the surface.

In the United States, 1986, the issue of surrogacy was widely publicized in the case of Baby M, in which the surrogate and biological mother of Melissa Stern (“Baby M”), refused to cede custody of Melissa to the couple with whom she had made the surrogacy agreement. The courts of New Jersey ruled that Mary Beth Whitehead, the surrogate mother was the child’s legal mother and declared contracts for surrogate motherhood illegal and invalid. However, the court found it in the best interests of the infant to award custody of Melissa to her biological father William Stern and his wife Elizabeth Stern, rather than to the surrogate mother, Mary Beth Whitehead.

Quite simple how the Baby M court case was settled. But Let me tickle your mind a bit. Imagine you were transported 200 years from the past into the future and you chanced upon a newspaper and read this case. You see the word surrogate, you look it up in a dictionary and you come back to give the case a second look. You will be shocked how many mothers you witness—the genetic mother, the biological mother, the legal mother and the surrogate mother. When did we start putting ‘mother’ into such adjectival qualifications?

It makes you now wonder who a mother was all this while when everything was simple and a mother was not a concept up for debate. Was a woman called ‘mother’ because she contributed the egg? Or because she carried the foetus to term? Will you call the woman a mother because she takes care of the children, or because she’s seen as a mother by others? Or because the law says so? What on earth makes one a mother?

Well, our society has a simple answer. Based on contracts signed, the law can choose one of these as the mother at any point in time. So we leave it here. We will just allow the law to grapple with such tough questions on our behalf. Call it an anti-climax.

But if I may crave your pardon for attempting to complicate a not-so-complicated situation, tell me, law aside, who then is actually a mother?


Author: Kwasi ‘Sei, threesixtyGh Writer

E-mail: agyapongmichael3@gmail.com