This story has been in the news for a few days now and I’ve been meaning to get to it. Perhaps it is a good thing I waited because now one source has provided the (nearly inevitable) other side to the story. This is really yet another variation on the “surrogacy gone wrong” sagas that I write about from time to time.
Though at it’s heart, this story features a major disagreement, here are the facts I can work out. I’ll highlight where there are disagreements. Teresa and Rudolf Bako are an Austrian couple who wanted to have a child. They tried for a long time and were unsuccessful. Carrie Mathews lives in Colorado and served as a surrogate mother for them. There was a long contract, drafted by the National Adoption and Surrogacy Center, that was meant to set out the terms of their arrangement.
Mathews became pregnant with twins after embryos were transfers that occurred in Cyprus. This is actually a point where I run into a couple of questions. First–where did the genetic material come from? (There’s a subsidiary question, too–does the answer to the question I just asked really matter or am I just being curious?) The Bakos were in their fifties so it might be the eggs weren’t Teresa Bako’s. And then of course–why Cyprus? My guess would be it has something to do with law and convenience. Perhaps a doctor in Austria wouldn’t do the transfer (surrogacy not being legal there) and perhaps coming to the US, where a doctor might have done it, was too inconvenient?
Anyway, Cyprus it was. It says they were there for 17 days. Matthews became pregnant with twins. And here I do get confused. The pregnancy did not go smoothly. The doctor–who it says was the Bako’s doctor and was in Cyprus–recommended bed-rest. Now I’m not at all sure how the doctor in Cyprus was in a position to do this–surely Mathews was receiving pre-natal care closer to home than that. I surely hope so.
The twins were born (I’m guessing in CO, but I actually cannot find anything that says) in July. There are all these nice photos of everyone beaming shortly after the births. The Bakos took the babies back to Austria. Mathews needed post-delivery care. And somehow things totally fell apart over the substantial expenses that accrued because of the more complicated medical care. It appears that at this point there are counter-suits over who might owe what to whom.
So what’s to say? First off, this is not DIY surrogacy. That’s probably a good thing. But it is the surrogacy center run by Hilary Neiman, who pled guilty to criminal fraud charges arising out a of an illegal surrogacy ring this past summer. That doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. And it highlights a serious problem: Surrogacy arrangements are complicated–emotionally, physically and economically. I don’t think it is a good idea to draft your own agreements. You really need to rely on someone who is a skilled and ethical professional to do that. But the internet being what it is, it’s hard for people to tell who is a skilled (and ethical) professional.
We know that Neiman bent the rules (to put it mildly) in other instances in order to make money–that’s my conclusion from her guilty plea anyway. With that in mind, you’d almost expect her to at least cut corners in other cases, wouldn’t you? After all, she gets a cut of the money here (and I would guess that her surrogacy center did get paid), but probably not until things are all nicely signed up.
To be clear, I’m not sure there was anyway the Bakos and Mathews could have known that Neiman was so unreliable. The whole fraud worked because she had a very good looking facade. Perhaps they are all victims of what is at the very least sloppy work.
There’s at least one detail that I’m particularly worried about here–beyond the money part, which I do not mean to minimize. Surrogacy is apparently illegal in Austria. I have no idea what the law is in Colorado, assuming that’s where Mathews gave birth, or in Cyprus for that matter. And I don’t know who the legal parents of the twins are. I guess what really troubles me is that I don’t even know whether it is clear who the legal parents are. That’s something I really do worry about, you know?