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In the Matter of Baby M

Supreme Court of New Jersey
537 A.2d 1227 (1988)


Facts

William Sterns (plaintiff) and his wife, Elizabeth, could not have children. The Sternses contacted the Infertility Center of New York (ICNY) to discuss surrogacy. The Sternses and Mary Whitehead (defendant) agreed that Whitehead would be artificially inseminated by Sterns and carry the child. After birth, Whitehead would surrender the child and her parental rights to the Sternses. In exchange, Sterns would pay $10,000 to Whitehead and $7,500 to the ICNY. Sterns and Whitehead signed a surrogacy contract outlining these terms. The ICNY conducted a psychological examination of Whitehead to determine her fitness for surrogacy and noticed some potential issues that could make it difficult for Whitehead to surrender a child. The ICNY did not share these concerns with Sterns or Whitehead. Additionally, Whitehead did not consult legal counsel outside of a conversation with an ICNY lawyer. Finally, Whitehead made no inquiries as to the Sternses’ fitness for parenting. Whitehead became pregnant. Once the child was born, however, Whitehead experienced emotional difficulty surrendering her to the Sternses. Whitehead fled with the child to another state, and the Sternses called the police to forcibly remove the child from Whitehead’s home. Due to these difficulties, Sterns sued Whitehead in New Jersey state court, seeking enforcement of the surrogacy contract. The trial court upheld the contract and awarded full custody to Stern, with the option for Elizabeth Stern to adopt. Whitehead was granted limited visitation rights. Whitehead appealed.

Rule of Law

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Issue

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Holding and Reasoning (Wilentz, C.J.)

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  • A “yes” or “no” answer to the question framed in the issue section;
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  • The procedural disposition (e.g. reversed and remanded, affirmed, etc.).

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