Embryos mix-up and Mothers’ rights: Who is the Mother?

When we speak of “mother” in relation to offspring (wordreference.com), we outline the concept of a

mother-fetus relationship

The mother-fetus relationship is very important for postnatal life. Can an embryos mix-up delegitimize intrauterine life?

“woman who has conceived and given birth.” The status of the mother and then the right and duty to raise their children (except for special situations of inability identified by the Law) has never been disputed.

An ancient Latin motto say: “mater semper certa es…”, in english “The Mother is Always Certain”, alluding to the absolute certainty of the maternal identification against the questionable paternal identification.

But the mother is always certain? The techniques of medically assisted procreation (MAP) were not born to undermine this principle and do not really bring a crisis even in the limiting case of the uterus for rent (surrogate pregnancy) when the mother is certain but by her own will, on the basis of economic and legal agreements, renounces to the right and duty to care for the child selling them to another woman.

Just recently, however, an embryos mix-up created the paradoxical situation in which a pregnant woman has in her womb, without prior consent, a fetus genetically belonging to another couple who, learned the news, seems (to what we read in the media) to claims the ownership at birth.

If this is the case it is clear that this event will end before a judge. The news, however, is that it si possible to get to ask for the removal of a baby to a mother-to-be who would seem to have no intention to sell him and who is perfectly able to take care of him, putting into crisis the legal certainty of maternity of those who conceived (even artificially) and given birth. But what shocked me, as well as discussions about guilt, responsibility, compensation, assignment of future child (or future children if more couples involved), no one has talked about the fetus as a third person involved.

Apart from understanding the particular mood of the two couples, that undoubtedly deserve great compassion, and without taking to ethical and legal considerations that do not concern me, I now press to focus on the interest of the fetus and of the future child by extending in similarity my thoughts also to the fetal interest in surrogate motherhood.

I had the opportunity to study fetal life for scientific research. In 2012 I created a small application (fetalactivitymonitor.com) dedicated to the fetal safety based on the analysis of intrauterine behavior.

In my opinion, the fetus can not be considered as a mere passenger in a essential for its growth container. The maternal-fetal relationship goes far beyond the support of nutritional factors: the fetus is alive and not in the mere expectation of birth; we know how biochemical bidirectional relationships elapse between mother and fetus and how the fetal-maternal relationship has important psychological, behavioral and experiential aspects for the subjects.

The fetus during the nine months of intrauterine life has perceptions (recognizing parents’ voices, the sounds, the maternal heart), emotions (dreams, feels and knows character and maternal emotions) and is continuing experiences that, at the time of the birth and early feeding, are the culmination of a growth continuum essential for its future years. It is in fact characteristic of the human species that the baby is strictly dependent on the mother after birth.

In the case of a surrogate mother and a possible motherhood objection in the case mentioned before, who adequately assess the interest of the infant?

Putting aside the interest of the couples, the child is more important than the genetic origin? Who is undeniably the Mommy? Is the one that has provided the chromosomes or is the one that gave birth to?

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Filiberto Di Prospero
Medical Doctor, Consultant in Gynecology and Obstetrics, Endocrinology and Metabolism. Director of Gynecologic Endocrinology Unit at Civitanova Marche General Hospital (Italy). Private clinics in Civitanova Marche, Rome and Milan.

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