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.