How Do We Define Family The Case of Baby M
The Participants • William and Elizabeth Stern • Richard and Mary Beth Whitehead • Baby M: Sara Elizabeth Whitehead/Melissa Elizabeth Stern
The Agreement: Mary Beth • Mary Beth agreed to be artificially inseminated and to form no “parent-child relationship” with the baby. She agreed that she would, upon delivery of the child surrender her parental rights to William Stern • Other: abortion, testing, risks
The Agreement: William Stern • Agreed to pay Mary Beth $10,000 as compensation for “services and expenses” payable only upon surrender of a live infant.
Timeline of Events • March 27, 1986 – Baby M was born; Mary Beth turns down $10,000 and takes the baby home • March 30, 1986 – The Sterns take Baby M home • March 31, 1986 – Mary Beth takes the baby back • April 12, 1986 – Sterns visit baby • May 5, 1986 – Sterns get court order • July 15, 1986 – Mary Beth threatens William Stern • July 28, 1986 – Mary Beth hospitalized • July 31, 1986 – Baby taken into custody • January 5, 1987 – Trial begins
Baby M Today Melissa Stern, a junior at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., responded by phone to two e-mails requesting comment. A religion major and sorority member, she recalled how strange it was to have the Baby M case come up in her bioethics class. She aspires to become a minister, and she says she is open to having children someday. But she does not want to talk about how being Baby M has affected her life. She said that she decided to speak despite the wishes of her parents, who have guarded their privacy closely. When she says “my parents” and “my family,” she is talking about William and Elizabeth Stern. Legally, they are her parents now: A source with firsthand knowledge of the case confirmed that when she turned eighteen, Melissa Stern initiated the process of allowing Elizabeth Stern to adopt her, which involved terminating Whitehead Gould’s parental rights. “I love my family very much and am very happy to be with them,” Melissa Stern says, referring to the Sterns. “I’m very happy I ended up with them. I love them, they’re my best friends in the whole world, and that’s all I have to say about it.” -Excerpt from New Jersey Monthly Magazine, 2007
Other Cases • Rights of Sperm Donors • Parental rights? • Privacy rights? • Baby Jessica