As an example of some of the checks and balances that we highly recommend to any potential Intended Parent, a recent example typifies exactly why you need to do your homework in advance. This case was highlighted in the media, (search for Theresa Erickson, surrogacy, in any search engine), and shows how easily clients can be duped by someone whom they assumed was an honest broker.
In 2011, Theresa Erickson, a previously reputable and respected attorney and owner of her own surrogacy agency, found herself on her way to federal prison in California for illegally creating what was effectively an inventory of unborn babies. The concept was quite simple – she sent would-be surrogates to the Ukraine to receive embryos created from anonymous sperm and egg donors. Once the women reached their second trimester, she would sell the unborn baby to unsuspecting parents waiting to be matched in her surrogacy program. Her story was that the developing fetuses were supposedly the result of a legal surrogacy arrangement, but the original ‘parents’ had backed out. As someone who knew the legal system well, she filed declarations and pleadings with the Supreme Court of California, falsely represented that the unborn babies were in fact from legitimate surrogacy agreements between the unsuspecting ‘new’ parents and the surrogate. In the court pleadings she filed with the court; she swore under oath that the contract was signed by the parties before the embryo transfer occurred. Due to her respected position, no-one doubted her integrity – until her scheme fell apart when surrogates learned late in their pregnancies, that there were no actual parents for the unborn children they carried. Although California law permits surrogacy arrangements if the surrogate and the intended parents enter into an agreement prior to an embryonic transfer, it implicitly forbids the sale of parental rights to babies and children for obvious, and nefarious reasons. If a woman is pregnant BEFORE she meets the intended parents and signs a contract with them, this is not a surrogacy pregnancy and the proper course is a full adoption.
Laura Duffy, Federal Prosecutor stated:
“The surrogacy laws were enacted to protect both unborn babies and parents seeking children. Erickson abused her position as a trusted legal advisor and officer of the court by circumventing the law and undermining the rights of children and intended parents. Out of sheer greed Erickson preyed upon people’s most basic need: to raise a child. We cannot and will not allow individuals like Erickson to profit by taking advantage of vulnerable people who have a sincere desire to lawfully adopt and parent children.”
Like many, you will probably be wondering how on earth she managed to pull off this scheme? In fact, it was quite simple. Since she owned both the agency and the law office, there were no checks and balances.
When an agency, lawyer or IVF clinic are all separate entities, (and who exist independently of each other but work together without coercion or bias), each entity/professional will be concerned with their own individual ethics, reputation, and legal liability. It is clearly much harder to get people from several entities to agree to commit fraud or tolerate someone acting unilaterally or deciding to falsify documentation. As Theresa was able to manipulate documentation with impunity, she could take advantage of innocent intended parents – because she was accountable to no-one.
It therefore pays to check and verify everything along the way, as everything may not be what it seems….
the guilty plea
Theresa Erickson plead guilty and was given a 14 month sentence, with 5 months in prison and 9 months will be spent in home confinement. She was also ordered to pay a $70,000 fine. The judge said he believed she was sincere in her apology and remorse. On the State Bar of California website: Theresa Marie Erickson #197830 – This licensee is prohibited from practicing law in California by order of the California Supreme Court. License Status: Disbarred.