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Real victims of surrogacy; It is the children who will suffer most from the decisions of their 'parents', writes Jonathan Walker.

They could have been daughters of an Italian businessman, or of a working-class woman from the Midlands. But the fate of Danielle and Emma will be to grow up with a lesbian showbiz couple from Hollywood for parents.

Their tale is shocking and distressing. Miss Claire Austin, the surrogate mother who gave birth to them, says they have no real parents. But in one sense they have four sets of parents - only one of which they will probably ever know.

First there are their genetic parents - the anonymous English woman who donated eggs and the American man who provided the sperm. The father was a donor at an American sperm bank. Nothing is known about the mother, except that Miss Austin has hinted she knows her, and would like one day for the children to know who she is.

Then there is the second set of parents. An Italian businessman and his Portuguese wife who asked Mrs Austin to provide them with a child. They already had a son and a daughter - both the result of surrogate births.

It is only because of them that the twins were ever conceived. Yet upon hearing they were set to receive two more girls, they backed out of the deal and demanded an abortion take place.

Although they had no genetic link with the children, Miss Austin felt influenced enough by their views that she initially lied to them, claiming the pregnancy had been terminated when it had not.

The third potential parents were Miss Austin and her partner. Under English law, the woman who gives birth to a child is the legal mother, whatever the circumstances. If she is married, her husband is the father even if he had nothing to do with bringing it into the world.

But Miss Austin felt unable to cope with the babies in addition to the two daughters she already has. She now says she regrets it, but she desperately sought out an adoption agency to take the children off her hands.

She used the Internet to search abroad, fearing that if she told anyone in this country about her situation the children would be taken away by social services.

But even in highly liberal America states such as California, no one would touch her except agencies such as Growing Generations, which specialise in 'unconventional parents.'

Then the fourth set of parents came on the scene - Tracey Stern, aged 40, a scriptwriter on hit series such as ER and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and her partner Julia Salazar, aged 43.

Miss Austin flew to Los Angeles, with her partner and her two children. Within 24 hours of arriving, she fell and was rushed to Cedars Sinai hospital where she was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia.

Although her condition was stabilised, she was to stay in hospital until the children were born. And this appears to be the root of her feud with Miss Stern and Miss Salazar.

She says they agreed to pay her hospital fees in the event her medical insurance refused - but have gone back on their word, leaving her with a pounds 25,000 bill she cannot afford.

Miss Austin claims the pair who finally adopted the babies were unsympathetic to her suffering, ungrateful she provided them with children and unwilling to allow her any contact with them. Hence the decision to air her grievances in public.

She said: 'In time these two little girls are going to want to know the truth about their parentage and, sadly, Tracey and Julia might not be in a position to offer much information. I am the only person who knows the identity of the egg donor, their genetic mother.

'As their birth mother, I am also the person who had the most to do with bringing them into this world. I hope Tracey and Julia realise that, for the sake of their children, they should stay in contact.

'I often wonder whether I should have tried to keep the babies. I would have managed somehow and maybe it would have been better for them in the long run.'

She also says she now believes commercial surrogacy should be abolished. She said: 'My views on commercial surrogacy have changed dramatically. Most couples view their surrogate as a commodity, to be discarded as soon as they have their precious baby.'

In fact, making a profit from surrogacy is already supposedly illegal in this country. Couples 'commissioning' babies should pay the mother giving birth no more than her costs. The twist is that this includes loss of potential earnings while she is unable to work during pregnancy. The total fee can be up to pounds 15,000.

And this not the first time Miss Austin's attempts to help others have ended in turmoil. In 1992 she gave birth to Matthew, who was biologically her son after she artificially inseminated herself with the father's sperm.

The father and his wife took out a court order preventing Miss Austin from seeing him. She says she still misses him.

Then she became pregnant for another couple with a boy who was found to have Downs syndrome. She agreed to the parents' request to abort him.

In 1995, to exorcise the pain, she was a surrogate mother again for a Greek couple. This has been her one complete success and she stays in touch with the daughter, Celine. But bolstered by this, she decided to try one more time - with disastrous results. For those who oppose surrogacy, it provides the final proof it should be outlawed.

Prof Jack Scarisbrick, of pro-family and anti-abortion group Life said: 'This is one of the most horrific stories I have ever heard. It shows how abominable the practice of surrogacy is and I wish the Government would ban it.

'The real victims are the children who were rejected by the parents who commissioned them, will never know who their genetic parents are and whose so-called parents now are two lesbians. They will grow up to be psychotic.'

The Rev Robert Ellis, Anglican spokesman for the diocese of Lichfield, said: 'This case highlights some of the many problems surrounding surrogacy that society has got to grapple with.'

Mrs Heidi Birch, Director of Nursing at Midland Fertility Services, said: 'This is a very unusual set of circumstances. In this country the child must have genetic material from either the mother or father of the commissioning parents. It would seem Miss Austin used a Greek clinic in order to get round this.'

The clinic has been involved in five surrogate pregnancies, of which two resulted in births. Mrs Birch said: 'We ensure both the surrogate mother and commissioning mothers have discussed what will happen in various circumstances, such as the child having a disability or being an unwanted sex. But it seems nothing like that has happened in this case.'
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Author:Walker, Jonathan
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:May 8, 2000
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