This story is now up on the Time website. It’s another take on the story that I’ve discussed quite a few times now. (I figure if I link to the last post you all can go backwards from there.) I suppose there’s an element of self-promotion here–I’m quoted in that Time story.
But it’s noteworthy, too, because Bonnie Rachman (the author) had some earlier conversations with Theresa Erickson (one of the lawyers who pled guilty). Not only was Erickson a high-profile lawyer who had successfully promoted herself as an authority on ART matters, she was a prolific egg donor.
Perhaps this should inspire confidence–in the “put your money where your mouth is” vein. But in fact, it’s rather startling. I have to wonder if her own experiences made it harder for her to appreciate that there’s a tremendous range of views on the topics here that must be approached with some care. Whatever it means, more to think about.
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. Continue reading
The last couple of posts about the baby-selling ring have made me think (again?) about the lines we draw between surrogacy and adoption and the way this changes the role money can play. I wanted to lay this out separately and then see where it leads.
Let’s assume you live in a place that allows compensated surrogacy. (You could think of California here, but remember, not every state does allow compensated surrogacy. If a state does not permit it, then this whole discussion goes nowhere–there are no lines to draw.) You want to have a child, but you cannot be (or don’t want to be) pregnant. Two young women live across the street from you–let’s call them A and B?
You know that A is pregnant but does not want to raise a child. You can discuss adoption with her. You and A could enter into an agreement with A that you would adopt her child once it was born. You could pay A’s expenses during the pregnancy–medical care, housing, maternity clothes, and so on. Continue reading
While I was travelling the LA Times ran a major story on the baby-selling ring I’ve been blogging about. (You can read earlier posts or the LA Times for the basic facts. I will not repeat them here.) It adds both detail and texture to the story (that’s journalism for you), so it’s worth taking a few more moments to see what is added and/or what is changed.
First, though, one thing that strikes me that has really been there all along, but I haven’t commented on it: the crimes charged. Both lawyers (that’s Theresa Erickson and Hilary Neiman) were charged with wire fraud and Carla Chambers was charged with a similarly generic monetary crime. No one was charged with baby-selling, which for all I know isn’t even a federal offense. This isn’t really so unusual–remember that Al Capone was convicted of tax evasion? Continue reading
A couple of days ago I blogged about a baby-selling ring that involved a well-known San Diego attorney, Theresa Erickson. The story hit the news when she pled guilty to conspiracy charges. Since then I’ve had an on-going e-mail conversation with Andrew Vorzimer, who blogs as Spin Doctor. (He’s got his own post up about the case and he also posted the actual plea agreement.)
He’s a very knowledgable guy in general but he has particular familiarity with the facts of this case. So for starters, I want to restate the version of the facts I offered with a few corrections.
I got the first part right–the surrogates (who were US citizens) were sent to the Ukraine to have embryos transferred. There were no intended parents at this point. Continue reading
I’ve written a bit about baby-selling here recently. Now comes this story, which highlights the ways in which globalization creates special problems in this area.
Theresa Erickson, a well-known LA-area lawyer specializing in ART, pled guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud yesterday for her operation of what was essentially a baby-selling ring. I don’t have anything to say in her defense (note that she did plead guilty–it isn’t simply that she was charged), but the details of how the operation worked are interesting. Erickson and her two co-conspirators essentially exploited the potential of globalized surrogacy to create babies who could then be sold.
Here is how it worked, as far as I can tell. Continue reading
There’s a troubling story on the front page of today’s New York Times. In China boys are sometimes stolen from their families and sold to other families that need sons. I’ve written only very little about selling children in the past, and mostly in the context of comparing it to the sale of sperm and eggs, and there were a couple of things in this article that caught my attention.
I note at the outset that it’s probably more accurate to say “stolen” rather than “kidnapped” as in kidnapping a child is held for ransom, and is presumably/hopefully returned once the ransom is paid. By contrast, there is no intention to return these boys to their families. They are taken so they can be delivered to someone else in exchange for money.
The article suggests that the practice of stealing and then selling boys is driven by the felt need, particularly in rural families, for sons. I suppose the implication is that the felt need is sufficiently great that the amount someone will pay is large enough to make the practice of stealing and selling children worthwhile. In other words, the desire for sons creates market demand. (Girls may also be snatched from their parents as well, but for different purposes. Rural Chinese families are not interested in buying daughters.) Continue reading
Here’s a recent article from the BBC. It’s been quite a while since I’ve discussed the globalization of surrogacy in any detail. It sounds as though some sort of regulatory legislation may be proceeding in India, which is one of the main foreign destinations for intended parents.
Three things particularly strike me in the article. First, the reference to someone as a professional surrogate mother. There’s really no reason why only the brokers in the middle should be considered professional, but it does seem a bit at odds with the ideal of altruistic surrogacy.
Second, the reference to restrictions the intended parents place upon the surrogate–here the foods she eats and the methods of transportation she utilizes. Actually, perhaps as much as anything what’s striking here is the phrase used in the story–“dictate terms.” It’s all about control. For that period of time during which she is pregnant, the surrogate may be subject to the terms dictated by the intended parents. It’s really not that surprising, given how carefully pregnancy is managed these days.
Finally, the description of the relationship between surrogate and IP towards the end of the article as “mutually beneficial.” The following quote is “[s]he is getting the money she wants and we are getting a baby.” I guess that makes it seem pretty stark to me. And again, I am left to ponder the difference between the transaction described here and the actual purchase of a child.
Perhaps I just need to get over that hurdle and say that under certain circumstances, baby-selling could be okay. But surely if I were to go down that path, I’d insist on rigorous regulation of the practice, which seems at odds with the current largely unregulated state of surrogacy.
I’m giving the octuplets the day off. No doubt there will be more to say about that tomorrow or the next day. But meanwhile, there aer a couple of smaller points I wanted to make.
This from today’s New York Times. This is what commodification of children looks like. I think it might be important to keep that in mind. I do see that there is some similarity between selling a child and selling sperm (see the comment by Nelly here). In a general way, both are about commodification of reproduction. But I also think they are quite different.
At the very least, perhaps we can agree that there’s a spectrum. Selling the kids (or trading them for a bird) is far more broadly (I’m tempted to wish it were universally) unacceptable. Surrogacy falls someplace in between sperm (and egg) donation and outright sale of children.
I want to pick up on yesterday’s thought, but also try to open up the field of consideration. Part of the point of yesterday’s post was that it seems that you can indulge yourself in whatever reproductive technology you care to if you have the money.
This is true in two senses. One is that if you have the money, you can afford to purchase whatever materials and services you might want and, given the robust and unregulated US ART market, that practically means you can buy anything short of an actual living child. (Note that while you technically cannot buy pre-embryos, you can buy all the constituent parts and the services to create them, so it’s pretty much a technical bar, I think.) Indeed, given commercial surrogacy, I’m sure there are some who would say that you can indeed purchase a child, so long as you go about it the right way.
The second is that if you have money it is far more likely that your choices will be deemed private, and hence, your business only and hence, socially acceptable. A huge brood of children is fine if the public doesn’t have to pay for them. People may look at you like your are slightly crazy, but it’s still your choice. (The recent NYT article about large families essentially walks this line.) Continue reading
Posted in parentage
Tagged ART, baby-selling, class, commercial surrogacy, egg donor, number of parents, octuplets, pregnancy, regulation, single-mother, sperm donor