Commentary Family

Surrogacy and Baby-Selling in a Globalizing World: What’s Next?

Karen Smith Rotabi

A well-known surrogacy attorney in California used her networks and well-financed practice to dupe families into paying over $100,000 for a child based on a fraudulent scenario. Basically, those looking to secure a child were told that a surrogacy arrangement had fallen apart—the intended parents backing out of the arrangement. This was false and a story constructed for fraud.

The FBI’s press release begins with the title “Baby-Selling Ring Busted.” When it comes to press relations, word choice is everything and there is nothing more loaded than “Baby-Selling!” Sadly child sales are not a particularly new phenomenon, but the mode of carrying out the crime is intriguing. The scenario includes the use of fertility technology in the Ukraine intersecting with unsuspecting American families with the resources to pay over $100,000 for a child. For me, someone interested in adoption ethics and emerging global surrogacy schemes, this particular case struck me as just one more manifestation of what is possible when people will spend unimaginable sums to secure a healthy infant.

The story goes something like this. A well-known surrogacy attorney in California used her networks and well-financed practice to dupe families into paying over $100,000 for a child based on a fraudulent scenario. Basically, those looking to secure a child were told that a surrogacy arrangement had fallen apart—the intended parents backing out of the arrangement. This was false and a story constructed for fraud. The unsuspecting customers (prospective parents) were given the opportunity to secure the unborn child without adoption procedures. The attorney then worked with surrogate mothers women who were impregnated with a donated egg and sperm and thus not a biological child of the surrogate mother. And yes, it appears that the egg and sperm donors were unaware of the child’s birth and entanglement into a child sales scheme.

The global intersection is related to the fact that the fertility procedure was carried out in the Ukraine. Interestingly these surrogate mothers were U.S. Citizens and not eastern European/Ukrainian women. Apparently, U.S. surrogate mothers were flown into the Ukraine for fertility treatments and then quietly returned to the US as surrogate mothers. It all unfolded from there and California was a likely state given its friendliness to surrogacy arrangements.

For those of us watching the fertility technology and surrogacy industry boom, this is not really all that surprising. There are really too many unusual scenarios emerging as child adoption becomes more and more difficult. Declines in adoption possibilities have resulted in a number of problems, including child trafficking. What is surprising is that a well-trained attorney would risk it all for such a child sales scheme.

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Fundamentally, advances in fertility technology are intersecting with globalization in a way that is forcing us all to ponder bioethics and call the quandaries and legal violations like we see them. In this case, the FBI is to be commended for bluntly calling this scenario a “baby-selling ring.”  While we await the sentencing of this attorney and several others involved, we can only wonder what’s next as the story of globalization and surrogacy continues to unfold in the context of limited child adoption opportunities. 

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