The recent conviction of renowned surrogacy lawyer Theresa Erickson is a disheartening reminder of the vulnerabilities faced both by hopeful parents and surrogates who choose to pursue a surrogacy agreement.
The absence of federal regulation in the U.S. and surrogacy's patchwork, state-by-state legal structure exposes parents and surrogates to scams, broken agreements, and malicious fraud. Sadly, schemes such as the fraudulent system run by Theresa Erickson are all-too-possible given the lack of strict legal oversight governing surrogacy.
But a well-structured and properly executed surrogacy agreement would have helped to ensure that a scam like Erickson's could have been identified and avoided.
First, prospective parents and surrogates should meet in person before entering into any agreement. Surrogacy requires such profound levels of trust between parents and surrogates that both parties deserve a meeting to judge whether the relationship is a good match. Further, it should be prospective parents that select their surrogates, not a surrogacy agency, consultant, or lawyer. These professionals should provide services to help connect parents with surrogates, but the selection of the surrogate should be made by no one but the parents themselves.
There should also be consistent lines of communication between parents and surrogates for the entire duration of the surrogacy agreement. Parents should be actively engaged at all stages of the process and supervise their surrogates to ensure they are keeping all medical appointments and leading a lifestyle which supports a healthy child. This collaboration also provides a base of support for the surrogate at a time of great emotional complexity.
Finally, the request for surrogates to have the implantation process conducted in the Ukraine should have raised red flags. We have leading medical professionals who specialize in surrogacy right here in the U.S., and the egg harvesting, fertilization, implantation, and pregnancy term should be carried out locally so as to allow connection between parents and surrogates.
Fault, however, certainly does not lie with the parents and surrogates who fell victim to Erickson's scheme. Surrogacy's confusing path-to-parenthood can be painfully difficult and intimidating. Worse yet, it distracts parents and surrogates from what they should truly be focusing on: preparing to bring a new child into the world with love, warmth, and care. A service such as that purported by Erickson allows parents and surrogates the freedom to focus on what's most important by freeing them from stress of surrogacy's processes.
But, in heartbreaking fashion, that trust was violated.
Any deliberate effort to mislead clients and misrepresent agreed-upon services can create great pain, but the stakes are particularly high when such fraud comes in the surrogacy arena. Surrogacy provides a sacred opportunity, but also a tremendous chance, one filled with both possibility and risk. As such, both parents and surrogates are left vulnerable in every sense of the word -- emotionally, psychologically, financially, and even physically. Such a degree of exposure underscores the vital importance of selecting surrogacy consultants and legal professionals who demonstrate the utmost levels of integrity, professional ethics, and sensitivity.
With so much at stake, and with such an exposed system, prospective parents and surrogates need to be absolutely certain of the terms to which they agree, and surrogacy consultants and legal professionals must possess the moral fabric to act in the best interests of all involved -- including, perhaps most importantly, the new life created through surrogacy's miracle.