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William Stern vs. Mary Beth Whitehead

Case Study:

William Stern vs. Mary Beth Whitehead
New Jersey Supreme Court
109 NJ 396, 537A. 2d 1227
Decision: February 2, 1988

Facts: William and Elizabeth Stern placed an advertisement looking for a surrogate mother. Mary Beth Whitehead responded and entered into a contract with William Stern. Elizabeth Stern, Williams wife, was not considered infertile, but due to her multiple sclerosis, there were concerns that a pregnancy would be too difficult for her physically. The contract stated that Ms. Whitehead would be inseminated with Mr. Stern's sperm. Ms Whitehead would carry the baby to term and at the baby's birth relinquish all her parental rights. She also agreed to relinquish all rights for her to make a decision about an abortion. William Stern agreed to pay Ms. Whitehead $10,000. This amount was considered as "compensation for services and expenses" and was not to be considered as a fee for buying/purchasing of a baby.

It is important to note that Mrs. Stern was not part of the contract and the contract was only between Ms. Whitehead, Richard Whitehead and Mr. Stern.

As part of the contract, Mr. Stern also agreed to pay Ms. Whitehead $1000, in the event that the child was miscarried, or stillborn. In a separate agreement Mr. Stern agreed to pay the infertility center doing the artificial insemination $10,000 (although some reports state $7500). The contract also stated that in the event of Mr. Stern's death prior to the birth of the child, custody would be transferred to Stern's wife, Elizabeth. The child was born on March 27, 1986 and was named by Ms. Whitehead as "Sara Elizabeth Whitehead." Ms. Whitehead transferred custody to the Sterns but requested to see the baby again. In most reports, it stated that Ms Whitehead was suicidal and felt that seeing the new baby would help. The Sterns complied but when they went to retrieve the baby, Ms. Whitehead refused and fled with the baby to Florida. She did make known her intent to not surrender the child. The Sterns then began legal proceedings to enforce the contract. The trial began in January 1987. The judge rendered his decision on March 31, 1987, it was determined the contract was valid. All parental rights of Ms. Whitehead were terminated and Mr. Stern was granted custody. On the same day as the decision Elizabeth Stern adopted the baby and they named her Elizabeth Stern. The judge stated "The parental rights of the defendant, Mary Beth Whitehead, are terminated. Mr. Stern is formally judged the father of Melissa Stern."

Ms. Whitehead appealed to the New Jersey Supreme Court and a ruling was made on February 2, 1988.

Questions:

- Was the contract between Mr. William Stern and Ms. Mary Beth Whitehead valid?
- What evidence?
- How did the court decide?
- Do you agree, why?

Solution Preview

- Was the contract between Mr. William Stern and Ms. Mary Beth Whitehead valid?
The contract between Mr. William Stern and Ms. Mary Beth Whitehead was not valid. The court decided that no contract can alter the legal position of a woman who bears a child as the child's mother. The surrogacy contract is unenforceable.

- What evidence?
The evidence is that the contract of surrogacy conflicts with the surrender of custody and consent to adoption is revocable in private placement adoptions. There are laws disallowing the use of money in connection with adoptions and the contract conflicts with such laws. Finally, the contract of surrogacy ...

Solution Summary

The answer to this problem explains Surrogate Mother Contract. The references related to the answer are also included.

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