Bioethicist: UK Man, His Surrogate Mom - and Their Baby - Are 'Family'

by Arthur Caplan /  / Updated 
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A British high court has permitted Kyle Casson, a single man, to adopt an eight-month-old boy who was carried and delivered by a surrogate — Casson's own mother.

To diagram this family tree, Casson, 27, technically adopted not his son but his brother because the woman who carried the baby to term is, legally, the mother. That also means that Casson's mom gave birth, technically, to a son and a grandson at the same time.

Biologically, the child is her grandson.

The ruling traverses an array of ethical twists and turns. Let's start with the more common fault lines.

Allowing a single man in his late twenties to adopt is a bit unusual but hardly unprecedented.

As it happens, Casson is gay and that might raise an ethical eyebrow in some circles among those who think that single, gay men ought not be allowed to adopt. But there is no evidence to show that a gay man cannot be a loving and able parent, and Casson passed muster with the court so, again, there's nothing to ponder concerning that facet of this adoption.

Now for the kicker. Legally, Casson was parenting his own brother. Or, at least, he was until the court nullified that status and declared him the father. Why? Because Casson had asked his mother to serve as a surrogate. He used his own sperm, a donor egg and in vitro fertilization to make an embryo, and that embryo wound up being carried to term by Casson's mother.

A lot of folks are screaming that this case involves incest or that it's immoral to use your own mom as a surrogate. Still others wonder about the emotional impact on a little boy coming into existence with so many complicated family ties.

Well, women have been using mothers and sisters as surrogates for some time now, and no one has complained too much about that.

Some careful psychological screening, as well as social work assessment, ought to be conducted before a family member — female or male — turns to a relative to act as a surrogate.

But some families can deal quite well with this kind of surrogacy role — and the British court agreed with that view by removing Casson's status as brother and replacing him with the role of legal dad.

Will this roundabout route to fatherhood scar the child?

There is no real evidence to show that familial surrogacy has produced any unusual amount of obvious pathology in children — although it must be admitted that studies on this arrangement are few.

Requiring occasional periodic social work visits to check on children born this way might be a good idea until it is clear that no real extraordinary harm results.

Kyle Casson is a dad. That is great. His mom has a grandson. Congratulations. As long as everyone understands their roles and responsibilities, this unusual and novel way of making a family is just that.

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