Long story short, gestational carrier Crystal Kelley was asked to abort the baby girl she was carrying for her Intended Parents (whose names have been kept private) after the baby was revealed in a 20-week ultrasound to have severe physical abnormalities (read the story and view the video on CNN.com). Included deformities of the brain and heart, displaced internal organs, and a cleft lip and palate. The baby was given a less than 25% chance to live a “normal life,” and the IPs felt that the humane approach would be to release their child from a life of suffering. Crystal felt that to do so would be “playing God.”
After the Crystal refused to terminate, the IPs offered her $10,000 abort via D&E. Considering her precarious financial situation, Crystal, a single mother with two young daughters and no source of reliable income, countered with $15,000. By the time the IPs rejected the increased fee (communicating via their attorney), Crystal claims to have regretted her counteroffer and had resolutely decided not to abort under any circumstance. At their insistence, the IPs’ attorney pressured Crystal to abort, stressing that she would be in breach of their contract if she didn’t. Crystal found an attorney who took on her case pro bono, and he ensured her that regardless of any contract, a woman cannot be forced to abort.
In the case of the contract, Crystal says that she and the Intended Parents never discussed how they felt about termination of pregnancy in the event of defects, for which conditions they would or would not abort, or how she felt about abortion in general. The issue appears to have been briefly addressed in their contract, despite their lack of conversation about the issue. It said that she would agree to terminate if there were birth defects and the IPs chose to abort. Their surrogacy coordinator, Rita Kron, owner of Surrogacy International, continued to mediate and cautioned Crystal that if she chose not to abort, she (Crystal) would be responsible for making all parental decisions.
The IPs then took another tact; they wanted to retain parentage and be named on the birth certificate, thereby giving them the right to turn the child over as a ward of the state Connecticut. Connecticut’s Safe Haven Act for Newborns allows parents to turn over babies under one month of age over to the state without being brought up on child abandonment charges. This proposal was no less acceptable to Crystal than was abortion. Her attorney then suggested that if Crystal moved to a state which recognized the gestational carrier as the mother (without regard to genetics), she would be legally recognized as the mother with full parental rights. Crystal knew that according to Connecticut law, which does recognize the rights of Intended Parents, she would likely lose in any proceedings to gain custody of the baby. So in her seventh month of pregnancy, she packed up her children and belongings and moved to the state of Michigan, which does not recognize surrogacy contracts, and in fact, forbids it. The move allowed Crystal to be the baby’s parent, and Crystal planned to use this right to find parents willing to adopt the medically-fragile child she was soon to deliver.
One month prior to delivery, Crystal found adoptive parents. She also was informed that back in Connecticut, the Intended Parents had filed for parental rights in the state Superior Court. Also revealed for the first time was that the Intended Mother was not the biological mother, either. Anonymous donor eggs were used to create the frozen embryos that were transferred into Crystal (the IPs have three older children via IVF from this same batch of embryos), one of which developed into the baby at the center of the dispute. This revelation further complicated the question of who would be awarded custody of the baby: Crystal, the Intended Parents, or the adoptive parents?
Due to Michigan’s parentage laws, Crystal’s name went on the birth certificate of the baby (referred to as “Baby S”), who was born on June 25, 2012. The space for “father’s name” was left blank. Three weeks after delivery, it was mutually agreed upon by all parties that the adoptive couple would be given full custody of Baby S and the Intended Father would not fight for custody as long as he and his wife were allowed visitation rights.
It all seems to have ended as well as it could have, but even though their saga has come to a conclusion, this current sensationalism of their troubles is just the beginning of the questions raised by this cautionary tale. There are somewhat obvious lessons to be learned from this by the details that have thus far been exposed:
- Before agreeing to match, the surrogate and Intended Parents should openly and thoroughly discuss their stances on termination/abortion and selective reduction. When beginning a surrogacy journey, the intent is to bring a healthy child into the world. It is difficult to think about the loss of a child long before the child even exists. However, this is an extremely important topic that needs to factor heavily in whether or not a surrogacy match is a good one to make. In my opinion, both parties should know exactly where they stand on this issue before they even begin looking for a match. About this issue, there is absolutely no room for negotiation. NONE. I don’t need to provide you with an example why; the answer is already here for you.
- Women who are in significant financial distress who would use compensation earned from pregnancy as a main source of income should not serve as surrogates. Crystal’s heart was in the right place when she became a surrogate, but much of her motivation was also driven by a pressing financial need. This type of dependence on the money involved in surrogacy can muddy the waters and potentially skew opinions and decisions, especially under drastic and difficult circumstances like this. Nothing is gained when one side or another has to question whether or not the other party’s motives are pure or if they are financially biased.
- Opting to work with a surrogacy agency does not free surrogates or Intended Parents from still doing their own due diligence research. Learn enough about surrogacy norms to know what needs to be discussed. Sure, we seek professionals to help us along our way when we don’t already have an answer for ourselves. However, the misses of this case suggests that neither side had more than a basic understanding of surrogacy before moving forward with it. They relied on their “agency” to facilitate the match, and it seems that neither Crystal nor her former IPs spent any time checking the integrity of the person in whom they chose to instill their trust–Rita Kron. This leads to the related, but less-obvious lesson to be learned from this whole mess, so simple that it almost sounds absurd: WHEN IT COMES TO RESEARCHING THE POTENTIAL PLAYERS IN YOUR SURROGACY STORY, GOOGLE IS YOUR FRIEND.
It is very difficult to point fingers and assign blame in this situation. Strong cases could be argued for or against each side. I do not view the Intended Parents as villains, not even for offering $10K for the termination. Without knowing their motive behind the offer, it is impossible for me to decide whether I do or don’t agree with it. While I don’t like the fact that Crystal didn’t ensure that she had a clear understanding of the contract to which she signed her name, I most certainly agree that Crystal should not have terminated when she felt that strongly against it, because like her attorney said, you can’t force a woman to terminate any pregnancy. While I do understand Crystal’s desire to “save” Baby S from being caught up in the foster care system, I don’t necessarily agree with her move to Michigan. She stole the parents’ rights to make decisions regarding their child.
Because of how this situation seems to have ended in a mutual understanding among the parties, how the media is accentuating the details of Crystal’s and the IPs’ actions and reactions and who was right or wrong seems almost pointless. What the media should be focused on and seems to have missed is the same as what Crystal and her IPs should have focused on and also seems to have missed — Rita Kron is a notorious scammer in the surrogacy community. The fact that neither Crystal or her Intended Parents seemed to know this…well, that I CAN assign blame to BOTH sides.
Scratch half an inch beneath Google’s surface, and the first hit you get for “Rita Kron surrogacy” is a post about her on the Surrogacy Community Beware section of Surrogate Mothers Online’s message boards. Scratch half an inch deeper, and you’ll uncover a winding thread of inconsistencies, a jumble of half-developed and questionable international and domestic surrogacy and adoption agencies, various aliases in use simultaneously, and a long history of surrogates who had the gut sense of something being not quite right when they were contacted by her. There are warnings about her that date back as late as ten years ago, and you can dig this up in less time than it takes to type “batshit crazy.”
As the facilitator of this arrangement, Kron failed to ensure that Crystal and her Intended Parents had this tough conversation. In fact, she would have pre-screened both parties and already known their opinions. A reputable surrogacy agency never would have let them meet in the first place; they clearly weren’t a good match for each other, simply because their opinions differed on whether or not to terminate in the case of abnormalities which would severely limit the quality of the child’s life. This also makes me wonder about the quality of the psychological consultation (if there was one), because it is also the psychologist/psychiatrist’s responsibility to engage both parties in candid discussions about this issue before signing off on a surrogacy match. I ALSO wonder about the contract itself. A good surrogacy contract specifically outlines from where the gametes used to create the embryos came. In cases of dispute, decisions about custody are heavily influenced by biological parentage. The fact that Crystal didn’t know that the Intended Mother was not the biological mother until two months prior to the delivery is troublesome.
I cannot stress how important it is for all parties in surrogacy to do your DUE DILIGENCE RESEARCH — on surrogacy in general, and on each other. You’d better believe that when I was looking for matches, I cozied up with Google and found as much information as I could out there about the potential intended parents with whom I was emailing. Of course, it’s not a fail-safe method of ensuring that you find honest and genuine people, but it can provide some big hints at who you should stay away from. I can think of three instances in which simple Google search turned up enough inconsistencies about potential intended parents that it made the freak flags that they tried to keep hidden glaringly obvious. It raised enough doubt for me to know that I didn’t want to take a chance of working with them.
The importance of this latest surrogacy scandal isn’t what happened; it’s what didn’t happen. Let that be the newsworthy angle, and maybe then more surrogates and intended parents will have a deeper understanding of how they might better minimize the chances of something like this happening to them.
- A Cautionary Surrogacy Tale
- The Erickson Baby-Selling Scandal: We All Fall Down
- Fallout – Implications of the Erickson Baby-Selling Scandal
Photo Credit – CNN.com