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August 17, 2011

by Jennifer Lahl
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side bar side bar side bar side bar side bar side bar side bar side bar side bar side bar 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:

I have known Theresa Erickson as a distant colleague for years. She joined the board of directors of The American Fertility Association after I left the organization that I founded as the first Executive Director. So I only really knew her from moments at special events, Facebook, a one-time appearance on her radio show last year, or through reputation.

Madsen and others went on to explain that there had been whispers that Erickson was being investigated, and that she was involved in things she shouldn't be. Other colleagues from the Family Formation Law Offices wrote:

We were sad to see today that any attorney would engage in baby-selling. Theresa Erickson, a California assisted reproduction attorney who was never a member of AAARTA or ACFFL, has plead guilty to multiple counts of baby-selling . . .

A favorite of mine came from the Spin Doctor, who stated that it is important to note that this case is not about surrogacy, but rather the sale of babies (and wombs) under the guise of surrogacy. You see, the Spin Doctor ascribes to the letter of the law and supports baby selling as long as the contracts are drawn up before and not after.

The Associated Press story reports that California leads the nation in trying to regulate the service and prevent such abuses. California, the birthplace of Octomom's Octuplets, is known as the reproductive tourist capital of the world. If this is leading the nation in regulation to prevent abuses, God help us.

All signs point to the fact that this recent development is only the tip of the iceberg. Parents with children from these surrogacy arrangements are worried about the legitimacy of their parental rights. Others are wondering if there are more surrogates out there without medical care or intended parents waiting for babies when they are born.

The latest word on Erickson's guilty plea is that the co-conspirators have entered a plea agreement and Erickson will lose her law license. She has reported that she will "go back into the surrogacy field through her "agency" and/or as a consultant." Time will tell if justice will be served.

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Response to Dr. Death Dies:

As a follow-up to my question " Dr, Death , How will he choose to go ? Now I know. The fact is, though, he never got to choose or chose not to choose because he had to relinquish his own macabre world for a more sane departure within a compassionate medical system. - T.S.


General Feedback

I have just came upon your site when following a link to an article from Dallas Willard's website. It was like a breath of fresh air (and I spent much too much time on it!). I am the Associate Pastor of an independent church in the Boston area, fighting a constant battle against our very secular society, especially with the predominance of academia in this area. Part of our mission is "Making Christ Known", believing that if we equip people with the truth about Christ and the Judeo-Christian heritage, they will then be able to follow and become disciples and live in God's spirit. Your website has given me a wealth of resources in one single place. Thanks! Please keep us in your prayers as you will be in ours. Blessings, - Rev. A.D.

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We live complex lives. We strive to sort out priorities that sometimes conflict or seem incompatible. A moral framework is needed to help us understand the reality around us. Our Judeo-Christian heritage provides a framework to help us comprehend the choices we make and the conflicts that arise over them. It is not only the main source of our spiritual values, but also many of the secular values we depend on.

tothesource is a forum for integrating thinking and action within a moral framework that takes into account our contemporary situation. We will report the insights of cultural experts to the specific issues we face believing these sources will embolden people to greater faith and action.
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that features informed opinion on current cultural issues.
  Jennifer Lahl
Jennifer Lahl, is founder and national director of The Center for Bioethics and Culture Network, an organization working to shed light on the bioethics issues within our culture that most profoundly affect our humanity, and advancing the voice of a morally responsible science that respects the inherent value of humanity and that celebrates its beauty and complexity. Lahl couples her 25 years experience as a pediatric critical care nurse, hospital administrator and senior-level nursing management, with a deep passion to speak for those who have no voice. Lahl's writings have appeared in various publications including the San Francisco Chronicle, the Dallas Morning News and the American Journal of Bioethics. As a field expert she is routinely interviewed on radio and television including ABC, CBC, PBS and NPR and called upon to speak alongside lawmakers and members of the scientific community, even being invited to speak to members of the European Parliament in Brussels to address egg trafficking. She is founding director of Every Woman First and serves on the North American Editorial Board for Ethics and Medicine as well as Board of Reference for Joni Eareckson Tada's Institute on Disability.
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