In approving a bill to outlaw surrogate motherhood, a House of Representatives committee in the Utah Legislature has taken a sensible step.

Surrogate motherhood is not only questionable in a moral and ethical sense, it also can cause tangled practical problems that are nearly impossible to solve to everyone's satisfaction.Certainly, there are infertile couples who are so desperate for a child that they will hire someone else's womb. But that is a bad answer to an unfortunate situation and has the capacity to make things even worse.

The celebrated Baby M case is just one example. In that situation, the surrogate mother decided to keep the child she had borne, touching off a custody dispute with the couple who had hired her.

A more recent similar case involves a legal battle between the surrogate mother and the couple who hired her. The couple has since divorced and all three parties want the child, resulting in a still-unresolved three-way custody struggle.

Court decisions have both upheld and outlawed surrogate motherhood, and the Utah measure is a recognition - also urged by judges - that states deal with the problem through legislation.

The Utah bill would make the practice illegal and carries both fines and jail penalties.

Opponents of the measure say it would not end the practice, only drive it underground, causing huge problems for the medical profession, for childless couples, and the legal profession.

But just because some people may seek to skirt the law, that does not make the law wrong. If that were the case, speed limits and other traffic laws would be abominable. Likewise, the desire for a child does not somehow justify surrogate motherhood, with its tangle of moral, ethical, emotional, legal, and custodial complexities.

Surrogate motherhood allows two unhappy people to create a situation where there are real possibilities of three unhappy people, plus a child torn and divided because of its bizarre beginnings. The Legislature would be wise to outlaw the practice.