The technical term for Hollywood’s latest bioethical brain-teaser is anti-mimesis, Oscar Wilde’s theory that life imitates art. Sophia Vergara, highest-paid TV actress in the United States, who stars in Modern Family, a popular TV show which depicts the kaleidoscopic formations of contemporary families (at least families in southern California), has become embroiled in a dispute over embryos. Her tangled relationship seems to be morphing into a script for her own show.
Surrogacy, sperm donation, infertility, menopause and IVF agony have been grist for the mill of the glossies for years, but last week Ms Vergara’s tribulations reached as far as the op-ed page of the New York Times.
With her former fiancé, Nick Loeb, the scion of a New York banking family, an actor, a failed politician, and successful businessman, she created two female embryos for a surrogate, as she (allegedly) did not want to bear the children herself. Both partners were older – Loeb was 37 and Vergara was 40 — so there was little likelihood of a natural pregnancy. Under a contract that they signed, the embryos could only be implanted if both parties agreed.
That happened in 2013. Then the couple split up. In 2014 Mr Loeb applied to void the contract so that he could proceed with a surrogate pregnancy. Ms Vergara refused. Mr Loeb called in the lawyers and placed his tale of growing up in a divorced home, his dreams of becoming a father, and his failed relationships in a New York Times op-ed. This was the lesson he had learned from those painful years:
“When we create embryos for the purpose of life, should we not define them as life, rather than as property? Does one person’s desire to avoid biological parenthood (free of any legal obligations) outweigh another’s religious beliefs in the sanctity of life and desire to be a parent? A woman is entitled to bring a pregnancy to term even if the man objects. Shouldn’t a man who is willing to take on all parental responsibilities be similarly entitled to bring his embryos to term even if the woman objects?”
Mr Loeb is Jewish by background and Episcopalian by denomination, not Catholic. But he says that he has a great deal of sympathy for Catholic views on the humanity of embryos. He wants his embryos to be born. Ms Vergara (who is Catholic) wants them to remain frozen forever.
“Vergara, who has happily moved on with her life, is content to leave the embryos frozen indefinitely as she has no desire to have children with her ex, which should be understandable given the circumstances,” her lawyers say.
In Loeb’s view, “keeping them frozen forever is tantamount to killing them.” He says, “I take the responsibility and obligation of being a parent very seriously. This is not just about saving lives; it is also about being pro-parent.”
Since life is imitating art here, it is possible that this imbroglio is a draft script for a future episode of Modern Family and that the op-eds and interviews in the glossies are stunts created by public relations agents. But if the raw emotions are genuine, they lay bare fundamental moral insights: that embryos are human and that all children deserve the love of a mother and a father.
Loeb’s position is that “the two lives I have already created” deserve to be gestated, born, educated and grow to maturity. Vergara agrees that they are human. But, she believes that they deserve a mother and a father, not just a father. “A kid needs parents. I wouldn’t imagine anyone saying it’s sane to bring in the world already everything set up wrong for them. It would be so selfish.”
You cannot expect much consistency from Hollywood – Vergara is a solid defender of same-sex marriage, which assumes that kids don’t need a mum and dad – but this real-life soap opera is a lesson in the natural law.
Stay tuned for the next episode of Nick and Sophia Go To War.
Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet.