Babies for Sale: Buyer Beware
Infertility can bring so much heartache to couples desperately wanting a baby. Sadly, desperation opens the door for exploitation. Recently, two high-profile surrogacy attorneys, Theresa Erickson and Hilary Neiman, were caught exploiting surrogates, stealing from California taxpayers and, most horrifically, selling babies.
by Jennifer Lahl
This article was first published at Tothesource.org on August 17, 2011.
It had already been a bad week for the moral credibility of the infertility industry. The Mumbai Mirror reported that cops were making arrests in a thriving racket involving local gangs, civic officials, and medical professionals all teaming up to traffic infants from India to countries where commercial surrogacy is illegal. It sounds like a plot to yet another movie, such as Google Baby and Made in India, showing the dirty underbelly of the booming billion dollar illegal baby making industry.
If you think this is too far from home to be interesting, and that selling babies is a rare event isolated to developing countries, please read Alan Zarembo’s piece in last week’s Los Angeles Times. Theresa Erickson, internationally renowned surrogacy lawyer in Southern California, has just pleaded guilty to being a co-conspirator in a three-ring baby-selling scheme. Erickson’s ring included Maryland based attorney, Hilary Neiman, and Carla Chambers, who served as a surrogate in the operation on multiple occasions and recruited other surrogates.
Erickson has relentlessly attacked my documentary, Eggsploitation, as over-sensationalized hype from a conservative organization whose larger agenda was to shut down the industry. Eggsploitation tells the stories of women who have been victimized by the fertility industry. Last year it won best documentary at the California Film Festival. Perhaps because of the film’s impact and success, Erickson and her colleagues wrote several negative commentaries and devoted air time on her radio program to criticizing the documentary as inflammatory and misleading.
Erickson continually comforts her listeners by assuring them that she is an advocate for the “the absolute best practices”, and that the claims in Eggsploitation are specious and insulting. In short, I have been distorting the truth about how unethical her practices are, and I have overstated the health and economic challenges inherent in the infertility industry.
The truth has now come out and as it turns out, it is Erickson who has been doing the lying. The public relations damage to the industry has been done, and who better to do it than the industry darling. Needless to say, the fertility industry is reeling.
Erickson and her co-conspirator’s scheme was to prime the pump and increase their babies-for-sale inventory by sending women, willing to act as surrogates, to Ukraine to be implanted with embryos created by anonymously donated eggs and sperm. If the pregnancies were sustained to the second trimester they would find intended parents willing to pay $150,000 for a baby. They would lie to these buyers, telling them that they had a surrogate pregnancy where the original intended parents had backed out. Then, Erickson would file the required legal documents with the courts.
The Associated Press reported that Erickson also admitted to filing false applications for the surrogates to California’s state insurance program to subsidize the medical costs of the deliveries of the babies. To be lawful, these contracts must be drawn up and filed before the surrogate is impregnated and the intended parents already secured.
Babies are being bought and sold. Women are being exploited. Non-traditional families are being made with no consideration for the children created by these technologies. And in this specific case, we see that greed trumps all.
Ms. Erickson and her co-conspirators violated a legal distinction without a difference. Do we get the parties all lined up and the contracts signed in advance or do we wait until after the baby is already in progress? Erickson broke the law by having the surrogate impregnated before the contracts were signed. But commercial surrogacy, whether done legally or Erickson’s way, is still selling babies. Just because something is legal doesn’t make it ethical.
Just as Peter denied Christ, as soon as this story broke, leaders in the industry began to back peddle from their relationship with Erickson. Pam Madsen at Fertility Advocate immediately posted this statement: