SACRED BOND: The Legacy of Baby M by Phyllis Chesler
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SACRED BOND: The Legacy of Baby M

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An ardent feminist's scorching, sometimes irritating, consistently original and stimulating appraisal of the profound ethical and legal issues raised by the famous Baby M surrogacy case. Chesler (Women and Madness, 1972: Mothers on Trial, 1986; etc.) briefly--though far from dispassionately--describes events leading up to the 1987 New Jersey suit by upper-middle-class Betsy and Bill Stern against working-class Mary Beth Whitehead: Bill and Betsy's (ostensible) hunger for a family (though they wouldn't consider adoption, and Betsy wasn't infertile); Betsy's self-diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, which made her fearful of becoming pregnant; the Sterns' choice, in 1985, of a sleazy for-profit surrogate-parenting agency to solve their problem, and their immediate selection, from a packet of photographs shown them at the agency, of Mary Beth Whitehead to be their ""surrogate mother""; Whitehead's signing of a contract, her pregnancy (during which she and her husband and the Sterns seemed to become friends), the birth of Baby M, and Whitehead's refusal to give up the child and flight and recapture. Chesler then goes on to make remarkably wide-ranging and trenchant arguments as to how the contract itself and the trial--in which a score of experts testified that Mary Beth was a ""bad"" mother, for the basic, irreducible reason that she wanted to keep her child, who was nursing--were products of a powerful set of fears of and prejudices against women and for the notion of property--in Chesler's view, a male intellectual artifact designed to turn women's power over to men, who use it against them. Plenty of analysis of the (important, possibly shattering) ways in which the Baby M case--whose anti-Mary Beth Whitehead conclusion eventually was overturned--will bear on the future of the family. A little too packed with feminist rhetoric, but still probably the most outspoken and intellectually challenging book that will be written on Baby M.

Pub Date: June 7th, 1988
Publisher: Times Books