As you may have seen and heard already, Theresa Erickson and Hilary Neiman – two esteemed surrogacy/adoption attorneys – plead guilty to being part of a baby-selling ring, one which they created under the guise of “surrogacy.” A former surrogate who worked with the attorneys as a “surrogate coordinator” was also charged in conjunction with the ring. In case you aren’t up to speed with the facts of the case, here is the prerequisite reading for today’s discussion. Rather than link to one of the many news reports hitting the presses, I’ve provided the link to the FBI’s San Diego Division’s official press release concerning the case.
There are numerous articles and news reports on the case popping up all over the Web and television, so I will not use this time and space to rehash the objective facts that you can easily find elsewhere. I do want to speak from my subjective point of view as the rare oddity that I am – one who can speak as both an infertile and a gestational surrogate.
As many of you know, I am the Senior Moderator of Surrogate Mothers Online (SMO) and am also its Public Relations Representative (and yes, the media requests for information are flowing). Now that the case has been publicized, I am at liberty to say that for months, I have known that Theresa Erickson was being investigated for shady “surrogacy” practices. I only knew information to the extent that it related to the SMO community. For the sake of the investigation, we complied with authority’s requests to try to keep discussions about the situation off of the message boards should they arise, and of course we complied. It was no easy feat, as the online surrogacy community is a relatively small one. News of this nature tends to travel fast and far, even if it is only comprised more of speculative rumbles than substantiated fact. Though we (we being SMO’s owner and moderators) knew the something of the substance of the investigation, we were not kept abreast of the finer details of the case developments as they occurred. I hope that the community of SMO and the infertility blogosphere understands that I kept quiet about the situation because if confirmation of criminal activity was found, I did not want to contribute to something which may have hampered justice being served.
I learned of those finer details late last night like the rest of the world. News reports about the situation began to go viral soon after the FBI posted the press release. I am sickened to know how deeply this baby-selling ring ran. In my many years as part of the surrogacy community, I have seen the worst of intended parents, surrogates, and so-called agencies whose actions contribute to surrogacy’s and third-party reproduction’s somewhat tainted public image. I have never before been so disgusted by a misuse of surrogacy/adoption/Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART). This time, the offenders are not some fly-by-night, backdoor “instant-agency” that sucked in thousands of dollars from unsuspecting intended parents. This isn’t a faceless woman who faked a pregnancy, received a couple of months of compensation, and then faked a miscarriage. This isn’t a set of intended parents who sing sunshine and roses and then breach contract and leave a surrogate’s medical bills and compensation unpaid during or after pregnancy. No – these women were two upstanding attorneys who were highly-visible in the ART/surrogacy communities. They were strong advocates for infertility awareness. Erickson is (was) the force behind The Surrogacy Lawyer Radio Show and also authored two books, one of which was about navigating surrogacy and egg, sperm, and embryo donations. Erickson and Neiman were leaders, people in whom huge amounts of trust were placed. They were big, public figures for surrogacy and ART. You know what is said about those who are big; the fall will be hard.
Unfortunately, the pain from the impact of this fall will be felt by more than just Erickson and Neiman; it will be felt by us as the infertility and adoption communities and by us as the surrogacy community. We, too, will have to endure further scrutiny from much of the general public’s already sharp eye (and sharper claws). To an extent, we will all have to suffer from the consequences of their actions. How can I, a former surrogate who believes strongly in surrogacy as a positive family-building option, encourage and reassure prospective IPs and surrogates to trust in the process when highly-respected professionals have convoluted it to serve their own selfish needs? How can we as a community get the respect our issues and concerns deserve when Erickson and Neiman have treated it sodisrespectfully? They hid behind the shiny surface of their established solid reputations to perform disreputable acts. To say they have done us a gross disservice is an understatement; they have underlined and exemplified almost everything that opponents of surrogacy and ART use as weapons against us. Thank you for arming the naysayers with nuclear warheads, Theresa.
I have the feeling that what has been revealed thus far only scratches the surface a few inches deep. The legal prosecution and criminal investigation may not stretch much further than the October 28th sentencing of Erickson, but the whos, hows, and whys are being picked apart by the public. The surrogacy community is afire with the speculation and accusations that members are now able to freely voice on SMO. Whispered, understated discussions of suspicion also seemed to have been prevalent among Erickson’s colleagues. Everyone is reeling.
“…there was nothing that I could tell from our emails or the radio show that she would play into the very underbelly that people fear from reproductive sciences, setting back public perception on surrogacy yet again.”
Somewhat ironically, today Erickson had this to say for herself on Facebook:
Remember, any story can be spun and manipulated to make a story salacious, yet know from the bottom of my heart that I have done the right things to protect some children from otherwise disastrous outcomes. I have never taken advantage of parents, children, donors or surrogates who otherwise would remain vulnerable to the underbelly of this industry. I live my life by doing the right things for the right reasons and sometimes you just have to do what is right.”