Dead woman could produce offspring via surrogacy Legal, ethical experts are taken aback

December 15, 1997|By CHICAGO TRIBUNE

CHICAGO -- Julie Garber, a California real estate developer, was 28 when she succumbed last December to acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

Her death left her parents inconsolable.

"She was my sugar puppy," said Jean Garber, Julie's mother, business partner and confidante. Her husband, Howard, a retired optometrist, said: "She was the closest to us" of their four children.

In the summer, if all goes well, the Garbers will get a part of their daughter back. With the help of a surrogate mother to carry her embryos, Julie Garber could become the first woman to produce a child from beyond the grave.

The Garbers' story, which would have been science fiction even a few years ago, is sending shivers down the spines of jurists and medical ethicists, who question the desirability of creating babies who will be orphans at birth.

"It is the Wild West out there," says George Annas, a professor of health law at Boston University. "But I think this case goes way beyond the limits."

Julie Garber, who was unmarried, had hoped to have children one day, her parents said. Knowing the chemotherapy she had to undergo would leave her infertile, she chose to have some of her eggs harvested, fertilized with anonymously donated sperm and frozen for later use.

When she didn't recover, her parents decided to look for a surrogate to bear Julie's child -- a feat never before achieved, experts agree.

It took three tries and all 12 of Julie's embryos to achieve implantation, but on Thanksgiving Day, the Garbers, who live in Anaheim Hills, Calif., learned that their surrogate, a 23-year-old mother of two, was pregnant.

Posthumous reproduction already has led to legal wrangles.

Several women have sued for the right to be impregnated with the sperm of their dead partners, and a Louisiana widow who did so successfully forced the Social Security Administration to pay survivor benefits to the child.

The Garber case adds a new wrinkle: Should an individual have the right to inherit someone else's genetic material, like any other form of property, and then hire a surrogate to bear a child who has no parents?

Evelyne Shuster, a philosopher and medical ethicist at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Philadelphia, calls the Garber case "outrageous."

"We're not focusing on the child here," says Shuster. "She will have a dead woman for a mother and a sperm donor for a father, and we think this is good?"

The Garbers admit that their daughter left no advance directive on how she wanted her frozen embryos used, but they insist that they are carrying out her will.

"Julie specifically willed the eggs to us" and "gave us a general power of attorney to do whatever we saw fit" with them, Howard Garber said.

The Garbers plan to name their son, Ron, and his wife, Melinda, as the child's parents. They believe it won't even be necessary for Ron and Melinda to go through adoption proceedings. "We'll just put their names on the birth certificate," Jean Garber said.

Pub Date: 12/15/97

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