The recent baby selling case that featured guilty pleas by a couple of prominent lawyers is still reverberating around the internet. There’s lots of interesting commentary and some newer news coverage. (It’s worth following Spin Doctor as its author, Andrew Vorzimer, is a lawyer who has worked in the field and also represents one of the surrogates who has cooperated with federal prosecutors.)
Once you get outside the realm of legal and policy analysis (both of which are extremely important) there’s a lot out there about the betrayal of trust manifested in the case. Much of this is at a general level–the attorneys involved were prominent in the field and well-respected and they used their status to further their ends, to the detriment not only of individuals directly involved but also to the detriment of other professionals who work in the same field. But for once, rather than take that macro view, I wanted to think more specifically about the victims in the case and the vulnerabilities that the defendants exploited.
So who are the victims and what made them vulnerable? I see three potential categories of victim: the surrogates, the intended parents and the children. In each case, it’s a little more complicated than it might appear.
The way the story played out, its clear that some of the surrogates were victims of this scheme. Particularly once they were pregnant, they were very vulnerable. But it seems to me that when the scheme worked smoothly, this vulnerability wasn’t exploited. In those cases the surrogates were well compensated–much better than the ordinary going rate, I think. And they weren’t left without medical care or with a baby they hadn’t wanted.
Perhaps the problem here is that since the babies were essentially being created on spec there were bound to be instances where it didn’t all go well and in those instances, the surrogates were likely to suffer. (The stories profiled in the LA Times show some ways things could go wrong.)
I suppose there are two things that made the surrogates vulnerable: first, their initial need for money. While I understand that there is often an altruistic component to surrogacy, the money is also important. And here the money was especially good. (I’ve written before about the issue with over-paying, so I won’t repeat myself here.) The second vulnerability arose once the women were pregnant.
Next let’s consider the intended parents. Like everyone else they were lied to. And, as this story makes clear, they were lied to in sigificant and important ways. Further, the legal process they went through (getting pre-birth orders) was a sham–the papers were fraudulent. But in the grander scheme of things they primarily got what they paid for. If they had been told the truth there’s no saying they would have turned the deal down. This makes me a little ambivalent about their status as victims.
What made them vulnerable? The desire to have a child. In this sense, it’s the same vulnerability many people face–where they have deep needs and someone unscrupulous comes along offering to fill those needs in exchange for money. Could be a miracle cure for a disease or the ability to contact the dead.
And the children. Are they victims? This seems to me quite slippery. They are not victims in the sense that the children sold in other cases I’ve talked about are. Those children were taken from their families and relocated to new families. I cannot say the same for the children here. In the instances where all went smoothly, the children ended up in families that wanted them. They were basically like most children born of surrogacy arrangements. (Of course, in the instances where it didn’t go well, you cannot say that.)
I go through all of this to figure out what was really wrong with the scheme. Was it that there would be inevitable cases where parents could not be found for the already created children, and in those inevitable cases, both the surrogates and the children suffered? Or is there something else?