Court rules couple legal parents of twins born to surrogate
By Robert O'neill, Associated Press Writer, Herald
Boston – In a significant victory for the
rights of surrogate parents, the state’s highest court
unanimously ruled Friday that a couple whose twins were
born to a surrogate mother are the children’s legal
parents from the moment of birth.
The Supreme Judicial Court also urged the Legislature to
draft new laws to address advances in reproductive technologies.
Maria and Steven Culliton filed suit before the twins’
July 23 birth, asking for their names to be placed on the
birth certificates. A Family Court judge refused, but ordered
that the birth certificates be left blank until the issue
The Cullitons’ names can now appear on the certificates.
In Massachusetts, like many other states, only the woman
who gives birth is presumed to be the mother and can have
her name on the original birth certificate. Under the law,
a woman is not allowed to give up the parental right before
The genetic parents then have to go to court to obtain
a new birth certificate with their names on it and sometimes
need to adopt their own child.
Justice John M. Greaney, writing for the court, said the
existing adoption laws were not intended to resolve the
The decision said the Cullitons were the sole genetic parents
of the children, the surrogate agreed with their request,
and no one, including the hospital, contested their complaint.
“What it means to me personally is that I don’t
have to adopt my own children, and that’s huge,”
Marla Culliton said. “I’m happy to have done
it, I’m sad that we had o go through it.”
The Cullitons’ lawyer, Melissa R. Brisman, said the
decision was a “great victory for reproductive rights.”
The decision significantly extends the rights of surrogate
parents in Massachusetts, legal observers agreed.
“There’s a big issue (over) who’s the
real mother’” said Elizabeth Bartholet, a Harvard
University law professor, specializing in adoption and reproductive
technology. “This court resolves the issue by saying
that the intended social mother is the mother.”
The ruling also validated commercial surrogacy arrangements,
which are still controversial in this country and are banned
in many other countries, Bartholet said.
The Cullitons hired a surrogate, referred to in court papers
as “Melissa,” after Marla had six miscarriages.
The woman, who agrees she has no parental rights, was implanted
with an embryo created from the couple’s sperm and
The Cullitons asked that their names appear on the children’s
birth certificate immediately after the birth, and that
they be recognized as the children’s legal parents
from the moment of birth.
They said genetic parents should have the right to decide
how and when to tell children about their being born to
But Family and Probate Judge John Cronin questioned whether
he had the power to determine parentage before birth or
the authority to order a hospital list only the genetic
Cronin acted prudently in seeking clarification on the
law, as the state’s laws in this case were “sparse
and not altogether consistent’” Greaney wrote.
The court described the state’s paternity statute
as an “inadequate and inappropriate device to resolve
parentage determinations of children born from this type
of gestational surrogacy.”
The twins, who would technically be born out of wedlock
because the surrogate was not married when she gave birth,
were indisputably the children of a married couple, the
“The Legislature is the most suitable forum to deal
with the questions, as yet unlitigated, by providing a comprehensive
set of laws that deal with medical, legal, and ethical aspects
of these practices,” the court said.
Bartholet criticized the court’s ruling, agreeing
that it was a matter best left to legislative bodies.
“I don’t think the court should be making such
decisions,” she said.
Surrogacy laws vary widely from state to state. Some states
require genetic parents to go to court before birth to obtain
a “pre-birth order” to have their names on the
original birth certificate, without the name of the surrogate.
Others require DNA testing after birth to document the child’s
parentage before genetic parents can be listed on the birth