Surrogates and Egg Donors have a new Web site

Attention information junkies!!!

Surrogates and egg donors have a new hub for all things assisted reproduction. IARC’s new web site, http://www.surrogates-eggdonors.com, has everything women need in order to be educated about the entire process. Users can find information on topics such as:

  • Beginning the process
  • Requirements and qualifications for participants
  • FAQ’s
  • Referrals and testimonials from other donors/surrogates
  • The matching process and IARC’s role
  • Client “Thank Yous” to our ovum donors
  • Contact information for our agency specialists

IARC realizes that assisted fertility may be a bit overwhelming, so doing some research about the process will make you more comfortable with your involvement. Users can find additional links on the site that will let them access other portals, like information about our partner clinics and the ASRM (American Society of Reproductive Medicine) guidelines.

As always, our specialized team is ready and willing to answer any questions prospective donors or surrogates may have. IARC encourages you to subscribe to our blog or read more of our personal accounts on social sites like Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter.

IARC team- 763-494-8800- info@iarc-usa.com

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Estate Planning for Surrogates Webinar

Tuesday, August 17 is going to be ground-breaking for IARC because Attorney Steve Snyder is going to host our very first Surrogate webinar! You’re invited to listen in to our webinar that focuses on estate planning and how it relates to surrogacy.

Everyone should have some sort of estate plan in effect for his or her personal benefit and the welfare of their family, but there are so many possible outcomes to a surrogacy case that planning for the future becomes exponentially more important if you’re an active surrogate, past surrogate or even thinking about becoming a surrogate. Who would make the medical decisions for an incapacitated surrogate (Heaven forbid!) if something unfortunate happens during the pregnancy? What right do the intended parents have if the surrogate no longer has control over her situation?

Learn all those answers in our webinar on Tuesday, August 17 at 8:30pm CST. Webinars are easy to use (you’ll need a link to the website and a phone number in order to dial in and hear Steve speak) and you never have to worry about leaving your home.

You’ll need to register for the webinar prior to attending. To do so, please go to http://fertilityhelp.webex.com and find the Estate Planning for Surrogates webinar. You’ll need to enter your name, email address and phone number. You’ll receive an email that will confirm your registration and will direct you in how to participate.

If you have any questions, please let Lindsay know by emailing her at lindsay@iarc-usa.com or calling 763-201-1422. Recruit your friends and share this information with anyone as knowledge is power!

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Missed the Estate Planning Webinar? No Problem.

You have a chance to view the presentation in its entirety here. IARC’s director, Steve Snyder, delivered an informative webinar about estate planning and why it’s an integral to surrogates on Tuesday, August 17. He thoroughly covered two topics:

1. What exactly is estate planning?
2. Why is it important for surrogates especially?

Every person should have an estate plan that details his or her wishes for the future, so this webinar would be advantageous for anyone. If anything, you’ll impress your colleagues with your knowledge of a fiduciary.

Here is the link to stream and watch the video or listen to the webinar: https://fertilityhelp.webex.com/fertilityhelp/lsr.php?AT=pb&SP=TC&rID=12717157&act=pb&rKey=80da9910dbbdd5c2

You can also download it here: https://fertilityhelp.webex.com/fertilityhelp/ldr.php?AT=dw&SP=TC&rID=12717157&act=pf&rKey=42f2dc9b166d22a0

Surrogacy Attorney Steve Snyder will offer the informational webinars once a month for surrogates, intended parents, egg donors and persons seeking legal advice about third-party reproduction. Find the schedule at http://fertilityhelp.webex.com or check back here periodically.

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July Staff Highlight of the Month — Keely Snyder

Keely Snyder, Manager, Intended Parent Coordinator & Matching Coordinator

Keely works with intended parents on an individual basis to educate them about the egg donation and/or surrogacy process with our agency and matches them with an appropriate fertility helper. After discussing the intended parent’s preferences, she will send detailed profiles to intended parents and assist them in making a selection based on their specific criteria. Once the fertility helper and intended parents are matched and all necessary contracts are in completed, we promptly start their program.

Keely has worked at IARC since June 2006 and has spent time doing each job here at the agency.  Her favorite thing about working at IARC is helping people take control of their surrogacy and/or egg donor journeys to the greatest extent possible and seeing what wonderful relationships develop throughout this process.  For her, this is more than just a job, and she loves creating personal connections with our clients.  Keely enjoys keeping up with current events and traveling, and her favorite city to visit is Paris.

Place of birth: St. Paul, MN

Educational background: Bachelor of Political Science, St. Catherine University, currently pursuing a Juris Doctorate from Hamline University School of Law

Hobbies and interests: I really love to read and go see live music. I also am hooked on reality television (Top Chef and Project Runway are my favorites), if you could call that a “hobby.” I also listen to MPR regularly – my only source for news!

About yourself and family: My school books are my family at the moment! My boyfriend’s name is Ryan, and I wouldn’t have lunches to eat or clean clothes to wear without him!

More fun facts:

I have a freckle of the palm of each hand! I LOVE DARK CHOCOLATE (gift passed down from my dad)! I hate roller coasters and spicy food (I kind of feel like I’m writing an online dating ad right now…). And I love my job 🙂

Philosophy in life: There is no problem that doesn’t have a solution!

Zodiac sign: Libra – my chi is very balanced!

The last movie you saw: The Eagle (I don’t recommend it!)

Favorite movie: That’s really tough. I love artsy movies and documentaries, but I’d have to say that the movie I’ve watched the most over the past years has been Pride & Prejudice. I can’t get enough of it – so romantic 🙂 I hate scary movies – I have a very overactive imagination, especially when I’m at home alone at night !

Ideal/dream travel destination: A tiny island in the Philippines – a stock of books and a beach without tourists, and I’m set for weeks.

The three people you would most like to meet: Hillary Clinton, Meryl Streep, and David Sedaris

Favorite musicians: Led Zeppelin, Adele, Marco Benevento (too many to name!)

If you could be a superhero, what would you want your superpowers to be? Definitely to be able to fly.

If Hollywood made a movie about your life, whom would you like to see play the lead role as you? Isla Fisher

What is your favorite holiday? Christmas.

The one thing that has happened in your life has made the biggest impact on who you are today? Having such a close relationship with my dad – he’s the best dad in the world!

Favorite color: Green

Pets: One short-hair, all black cat named Magnolia (Maggie!).

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Sperm donation requirements: A look inside the Kansas sperm donor legal case

Sperm Donor Legal RequirmentsThe case of a Kansas man who is being sued by the state for child support is gaining national attention. If you are considering donating sperm (or eggs, for that matter), it is important to know the donation requirements and laws to protect yourself from legal implications, such as this one.

Sperm Donor Laws: The Kansas Case

According to the Associated Press, in 2009 a Kansas man answered an online ad for a sperm donation for a lesbian couple looking to have a child. The three signed an agreement that they believed severed the man’s parental rights. However, Kansas law states that a sperm donor is not the father of a child only if a doctor handles the artificial insemination. The law does not specifically address the donor’s rights and obligations when no doctor is involved, which was the situation in Kansas.

A few years after the child was born, the couple fell on tough times and needed to receive state assistance. This caused the state to look to the father to pay the state for approximately $6,000 in public assistance that was given to the couple, as well as pay child support.

Sperm Donor Requirements: How to Protect Yourself

Know sperm donor laws

Although the laws may be in need of updating to keep up with modern family planning, it is important to know the specific sperm donor requirements and laws in your state before you make or receive a donation.

Many states have similar laws to Kansas that require a doctor to assist in the insemination process.   Other state laws allow donation only to a married couple with written consent from both the husband and wife.

Every state may have a different law, and, if two states are involved the process can be even more complicated. If the necessary requirements to address the donor’s presumptive parental rights are not taken, it may be the law of the state where the custodial parent lives (and applies for state aid) that will govern, not the state where the original insemination took place.

Most states still determine parentage based on either giving birth to the child, being married to the birth mother, or being genetically related to the child, among other tests. Progress is being made and some states have begun to implement “the intent tests” – a determination of parentage based on the intent of the parties rather than genetic or birth relationship. Our hope is that the laws will continue to evolve to keep up with modern families, but since the original intent of the parties is now the most important factor in reproduction using a donor and/or surrogate, making sure that intent can be effected under the existing laws of the governing state is critical to success.

Seek professional help

The laws can be complicated and are constantly changing, which is one of the main reasons why fertility lawyers and agencies exist. To help donors and intended parents navigate the process and ensure a successful, legal experience for all parties.

Cheaper is not always better

Can you go on amazon.com and buy a home insemination kit for $29.95? Sure. But as the man in Kansas is learning, that is not always the best—or in the end, the cheapest—option.

The Bottom line

Cases like these are only going to become more prevalent as people and science redefine ways to make a family. The best way to protect yourself is to seek professional help as you are beginning to research your options.

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How To Find A Surrogate

How to Find a SurrogateChoosing a surrogate mother can be a challenging first step for many intended parents. However, there are several sources that intended parents can use to find a surrogate mother who is appropriate and reliable.

Surrogate option: Relatives, Friends or Co-workers

One potential source for a surrogate is relatives, friends, or co-workers.

One of the advantages of finding a surrogate whom the parents have an existing relationship with is that it maximizes the feeling of comfort and trust among the parties. This initial trust level can help minimize the parents’ inherent fear that the surrogate will change her mind and want to keep the baby. The ongoing relationship among the parties also increases the likelihood of a continued relationship between the family and surrogate after the child’s birth. This allows the intended parents to have access to the surrogate’s developing medical history, which is important if the surrogate’s own egg is used because her genetic make-up is passed on to the child.

Another advantage is that when intended parents have a relationship with their surrogate it is more likely that the surrogate will charge only a modest fee or no fee at all.

It is important to also weigh the disadvantages in using a relative, friend, or co-worker as a surrogate.  The first is that, in order to volunteer, that person must know of the parents’ situation that led to them deciding to use a surrogate. Not every intended parent discusses such private family issues openly. Additionally, becoming a surrogate is a big commitment and not everyone is lucky enough to find someone willing to help.

Another potential disadvantage is that these volunteers have not been screened and may not be medically, psychologically, or emotionally suited to participate in third-party reproduction. Substantial screening must take place before an agreement can be made, and, if the volunteer is not suitable, there may be a delay while the parents look for another candidate.

There is also a very real risk that going through the surrogacy process together may create conflict among the parties and that unrelated conflict in the parties’ relationship may unnecessarily complicate the surrogacy process. Although there are many success stories involving sisters who have carried babies for their siblings, there are also parents who have regretted using a sister to carry their child because of various negative emotional family issues that have surfaced only after the pregnancy has occurred.

Using a surrogate who is already part of the parents’ social network also complicates the issue of the surrogate’s post-birth contact with the child, especially if the parents want to minimize such contact.

Finally, many administrative details must be managed for the process to go smoothly, and one of the parties will have to take on these administrative responsibilities unless they hire an attorney or other entity to do so.

Surrogate option: Surrogate Mothers Online

Another way to find a surrogate is to surf various websites and find a surrogate who is individually marketing herself to intended parents. Finding a surrogate online has the advantage of significantly increasing the number of potential candidates that the parents can consider.

If the surrogate’s egg will be used, this allows the parents to more easily select a surrogate who shares certain physical characteristics with one of the intended parents if that is important to them. They can also select a surrogate who has no prior or ongoing relationship with their family, thereby permitting a more “anonymous” process.

The Internet also expands the geographic scope of the search for a surrogate, which is especially important for parents who live in a state where surrogacy is limited or banned. Since the law of the state where the surrogate resides normally governs the outcome of the process, as opposed to the law of the state where the parents reside, parents can look for a surrogate in a state where third-party reproduction is permitted. In addition, this type of search allows parents to find a surrogate without incurring the additional fee typically charged by agencies who offer to match them with a surrogate.

With these benefits come certain disadvantages. Surrogates who advertise online are typically in close communication with other surrogates on the Internet in various chat rooms. They are educated on the “market rate” for their services and often charge premium fees (currently around $25,000 or more). The motivation for these candidates is usually more financial than altruistic, and this may make the process feel more like a business transaction than warm, cooperative family-building.

Furthermore, these surrogates have usually not been screened to determine their suitability for third-party reproduction, so the potential for them to fail the screening and delay the process still exists.

If inadequate screening is done, these candidates are the ones who may most likely “change their minds,” even if only to leverage better compensation from the parents. While the parents may want to sever personal contact with the surrogate after the birth, it may be beneficial to keep getting medical information about the surrogate. This can be difficult with an individual surrogate since she may be hard or impossible to find several years after the birth.

Finally, if the surrogate is in another state, it is challenging to maintain the communication, arrange the medical procedures, and implement the financial arrangements among the parties. These administrative burdens will fall either on the parents or the surrogate during the pregnancy (while everyone would rather be focusing on the miracle of birth than the business details of the process).

Surrogate option: Surrogacy Agency

The final source for finding a surrogate is to contact a reputable surrogacy agency to find a surrogate that has been identified and pre-screened for suitability.

This source has the same advantages as finding an individual surrogate on the Internet without the disadvantages. Parents can still select from a large pool of candidates, and they still have sole discretion to select a surrogate based on their own individual criteria.

However, a reputable agency will typically have numerous pre-screened and suitable surrogates available to pick from, so there will be no unexpected delay. These available candidates are screened to find a reasonable balance between their desire for compensation and their desire to give the gift of their services. As a result, they are often available for a more reasonable fee, and are much less likely to change their mind.

In addition, once the surrogate is picked, an agency will usually help negotiate the terms of and refer the parents’ to an attorney who can draft the surrogacy agreement on the parents’ behalf. A full-service agency will arrange and manage all of the administrative details of the process, including ongoing communication between the parties, necessary travel and lodging, medical procedures, financial arrangements, and post-birth legal procedures.

An agency will also stay in communication with the surrogate after the birth in order to monitor and facilitate the continuing exchange of necessary information about the surrogate’s medical history, if desired. This allows a buffer between the parents and the surrogate for post-birth privacy purposes when the parents prefer it.

The challenge in using a surrogacy agency is finding a reputable one. Significant inquiry and research should precede the parents’ selection of an agency with which to work. Just as in all professions, there are good ones and bad ones, and the bad ones should be avoided.

Another disadvantage of using an agency is the additional agency fee, which can run as high as $20,000.  This obviously increases the financial burden on the parents in their effort to have a child. Whether the services provided by an agency justify the fee depends on the individual circumstances and perspective of the parents.

(This article is not intended as legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Each family and agreement is unique, so you should hire a competent attorney to advise you specifically about your particular case.)

Steven H. Snyder is an attorney experienced in assisted reproduction and surrogacy law.

Please contact us if you have questions or issues that you would like him to address.

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Check out our Facebook page!

Have you checked out the IARC FB page? If you know anyone who is struggling with infertilty, or have friends who might consider egg donation OR becoming a surrogate, please send them to our page IARC Fertility. We’ll have a drawing for a gift certificate once we hit our first 500 fans. Every current fan at the time of the drawing will be eligible!

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Steve Snyder “Every Family Lawyer Should Know:”

Of the 8.1 million people suffering from infertility, a vast number of them are participating in medical procedures — to remove and store their sperm and eggs and create and store their embryos. In addition, they are often participating in 3rd-party reproduction … to create children with potentially fragmented connections to their genetic/gestational/intended parents. There are simply too many infertile couples participating in medical procedures to expect that any family lawyer will remain unaffected by, or can remain blithely unaware of, issues related to ART.

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Message about surrogate social, by Keely Snyder

Hi everyone!
 
I hope you all are having a good start to Fall and that back to school went smoothly for all of you that had the joy of going through that this year.
 
I wanted to be in touch regarding our upcoming surrogate social.  First, please know that costumes are NOT required.  These socials are for people to gather, share their surrogacy experiences, and hopefully learn something that helps in current or future journeys.  We like to liven them up when possible, and a halloween theme seemed appropriate for the time of year, but please do not feel pressured to wear a costume.  For those of you who don’t dress up, you can just wear your halloween jewelry (I know some of you have some!) or orange-colored apparel and secretly make fun of those of us who are dressed up 🙂
 
Second, as some of you may know, I wasn’t able to make the last social due to my class schedule, but fortunely this Social is falling on a weekend when I have a break this semester.  I really look forward to seeing all of you who can make it and really encourage people to attend if possible!  Some Socials are more substantive, and some are more for socializing – I think we’ll find a great balance with this Social and always love the opportunity to hear your feedback in order to make IARC the best we can be.  
 
Thanks, and I hope to see all of you very soon! 
 
Warmly,
 
Keely 
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Steven Snyder: Personal Perspectives on Baby Selling Scheme, or Things That Make Me Go, “Huh?”

That People Are Still Confused About What Was Really Going On.

I have read a number of comments, blog posts, etc. (by some usually knowledgeable ART professionals) about the U.S.-Ukrainian baby-selling scheme that have misunderstood or misstated the facts.  In order to fully appreciate the gravity of the case, we must first understand exactly what was happening.

Carla Chambers, years ago, worked as a surrogate for Theresa Erickson through Ms. Erickson’s surrogacy agency.  Sometime after working with Ms. Erickson as a surrogate, Ms. Chambers was arrested in 2000 as she was trying to use fresh semen samples to impregnate women in New Zealand whom she had solicited through advertisements as “surrogates” who then traveled to California to deliver the babies.  The babies, according to a concurrent newspaper report, were then adopted by U.S. parents.  (Type or paste the following URL into your browser to read the original story:  http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=139079.) 

 We do not know who the “Californian-based adoption attorney” who “masterminded” this previous scheme was those eleven years ago from this article, but this past scheme was obviously not Ms. Chambers’ idea.  Thus, this new scheme isn’t Ms. Chambers’ first, and it is unlikely that this one was her idea, either.  (We know it wasn’t Hilary Neiman’s idea because her plea agreement clearly states that she was solicited into the conspiracy three years after Ms. Erickson and Ms. Chambers had already started running it.)  Ms. Chambers may or may not have been working with the same attorney in both schemes.  We just don’t know.  For federal investigation and prosecution purposes, these events are beyond the applicable statute of limitations.

The next scheme (of which we are aware) surfaces in this Ukrainian baby selling scheme.  Here is how it worked. Just as in the first scheme, Ms. Chambers advertised for “surrogates.”  When a woman contacted her in response to an ad, she would readily explain that she operated her surrogacy programs “differently.”  She would then explain to each prospective recruit, in detail and before the recruit actually traveled for any embryo transfer, exactly what would happen.  (Since I firmly believe that Ms. Chambers grossly misrepresented the actual facts when referring to these programs as “surrogacies,” I will refer to the women she recruited as what they actually were – “birth mothers” – not surrogates.)  She told each of them, with the support and affirmation of Ms. Neiman, that the process was completely legal.

According to one of the birth mothers, the birth mother would be tested only for STDs once she was accepted.  There would be no other psychological screening, education, legal consultation, or preparation of the birth mother for the process.  If the birth mother had no STDs, Ms. Chambers would typically meet her and fly with her to the selected fertility clinic in the Ukraine, where Ms. Chambers told the birth mother the physician would transfer “donated” embryos to her uterus.  (In fact, the embryos were custom-created by Ms. Chambers through the clinic with egg and sperm donors whom Ms. Chambers personally selected.  The embryos weren’t really “donated” at all.)  On more than one occasion, Ms. Chambers, who is well over 40 years old, would also have embryos transferred to her in an effort to become pregnant, as well.  After several days, Ms. Chambers and the birth mother would fly back home, where the birth mother would wait for three months to determine whether she would successfully carry a pregnancy as a result of the embryo transfer.  If the birth mother was pregnant, then, and only then, would the conspirators advertise for parents to receive the baby.

During recruitment, the birth mothers sometimes asked Ms. Chambers and her conspirators various questions.  The birth mothers asked what would happen if no parents stepped forward to receive the baby.  They were told that there was a long list of parents waiting to receive children, that that simply never happened, and that they should not be concerned about that possibility.  (Let’s be clear here.  If, indeed, parents weren’t found, the resulting children would be the birth mother’s children and sole legal responsibility.)  The birth mothers asked who would pay for the medical expenses related to their pregnancy before they were matched.  They were told that they should submit all bills through their own insurance companies as if it was their own pregnancy (which, in fact, it was at this point, I suppose).

If a birth mother successfully completed the first trimester, the conspirators would “advertise” for prospective parents to receive the child.  (Type or paste the following URL into your browser to see a sample: http://www.babycrowd.com/forums/adoption/Caucasian_baby_USA_looking_for_suitable_parents_/.  When prospective parents responded, they were told that the birth mother was a pregnant surrogate whose intended parents had backed out.  They were also told that, for $100,000.00 or more, they could “step in” to this surrogacy and receive the baby who was already in gestation.  At least a dozen sets of intended parents did so.

All of the birth mothers were told that they had to travel to California to deliver the baby.  This gave the California courts jurisdiction over the parentage orders.  Once the birth mothers gave birth in California, Ms. Erickson would knowingly and intentionally file false pleadings with the San Diego courts alleging the case was a surrogacy and seeking a prebirth parentage determination in favor of the prospective parents.  Ms. Erickson would also knowingly and intentionally complete and submit false insurance application forms to obtain coverage for the hospital expenses incurred from the California Access for Infants and Mothers insurance program.

That Some Sources Claim Those Who Reported the Conspirators to the Authorities Were Self-Motivated.

I have heard rumblings from certain quarters that those who reported the conspirators’ activities to the authorities were “competitors” who sought to target Theresa Erickson out of self-interest simply to gain professional advantage.  This could not be further from the truth.  Again, let’s look at what actually happened.

I was sitting peacefully in my office at my desk when I received a call from another member of the ABA Assisted Reproductive Technology Committee, of which I am chair.  This individual, who chooses to remain anonymous to this point, had been contacted by a prospective surrogate who asked questions about “another way” of becoming a “surrogate” mother.  This prospective recruit then went on to describe the Ukrainian baby-selling scheme in detail to this other attorney.

The recruit not only described the baby-selling scheme, she forwarded volumes of emails to this attorney written between the recruit and Ms. Chambers in which Ms. Chambers also described the scheme and clearly named the other two persons involved – Ms. Erickson and Ms. Neiman.  Ms. Erickson’s participation, in particular, alarmed this other attorney because Ms. Erickson was a very visible industry professional and an active member of our committee.  The attorney, who believed the group’s activities were highly inappropriate, contacted me and forwarded to me all of the emails so I could assist this other attorney in determining an appropriate response to this information.  This other attorney believed we should do something but did not know what to do.

After receiving this detailed information clearly implicating all three conspirators in the scheme, I spoke with the other attorney.  I told this attorney that if my name came up in connection with questionable activity, I would want those involved to contact me personally to ask me directly to my face whether any allegations against me were true.  Therefore, I told the other attorney that I was going to call Ms. Erickson and ask her personally about the scheme and her involvement in it, if any.  The other attorney asked to be a silent participant in the call, so I called Ms. Erickson with the other attorney conferenced on the line.

When Ms. Erickson answered my call, I explained that information had come to me about a Ukrainian baby-selling scheme and that her name was clearly listed as the attorney who would do the parentage orders for the parents in California.  I also explained that the emails were from Ms. Chambers, one of Ms. Erickson’s former surrogates.  I told Ms. Erickson everything I knew, including that Ms. Chambers alleged that she was officing in Ms. Erickson’s office and that drugs were being sent to the prospective surrogates using Ms. Erickson’s office address.  I clearly told Ms. Erickson that this scheme was inappropriate, if not illegal, and told her that if she was involved she should stop her activity immediately for the sake of the industry if not herself.

Ms. Erickson’s response to me was that she agreed that the scheme would be inappropriate but that she knew nothing about it and was not involved.  She said that she had done one parentage order for Ms. Chambers, but it was a case in which there actually was a set of IPs who had backed out.  She went on to say that if she knew Ms. Chambers was involved in such a scheme, she would immediately advise her to stop it.  I asked for contact information for Ms. Chambers so I could also speak with her personally, which Ms. Erickson denied she had.  I later asked Ms. Erickson to speak with Ms. Chambers and tell her to stop her activities.  Ms. Erickson responded that she would “call” Ms. Chambers and do so.

After the call, the other attorney and I spoke.  Beyond the inconsistent information about whether Ms. Erickson actually had contact information for Ms. Chambers, we agreed that there were other disconcerting inconsistencies in what she had told us.  We agreed that there was a high likelihood that Ms. Erickson was lying to us about the scheme and her involvement.

A day or two after my call to Ms. Erickson, two emails were sent, one by Ms. Erickson and one by Ms. Chambers.  Ms. Erickson’s was to me, essentially trying to encourage me not to mention her possible involvement in the scheme.  It read as follows:

I just want you to be aware that I have made several phone calls and sent a few emails, and I would hope that solves some of the issues; however, at the same time, I would appreciate the professional courtesy of not implicating me in any way that may damage my reputation that I have worked so hard to develop and nurture, as I have done nothing wrong. 

In fact, I have done the same for you many times despite things that have occurred, . . .  and I would hope that any information that you discuss does not involve my name or create any innuendoes where they are not warranted.  I understand that we are competitors; however, there is enough business for everyone, and I know that you understand how I do business.

(As you can see, Ms. Erickson was already creating the smoke-screen defense, which has now been adopted by her defenders, of “competitors” trying to wrongfully incriminate her for their own advantage.)  Ms. Chambers’ email, which was forwarded to us by the prospective birth mother, was to every woman she had recruited as a “surrogate” in the scheme, and hers told them all to stop talking to anyone about the scheme because “some asshole attorney” was “sticking his nose” in their business.  (I really took no offense, though.) 

In light of the responses we received, the reporting attorney and I believed we could not do anything meaningful to stop the scheme.  We did not have the authority or resources to investigate it, and we could not get the conspirators, through Ms. Erickson, to stop it of their own volition.  The only option we had left was to report it to appropriate authorities.

In determining what to do, I continually referenced myself back to my professional obligation under the relevant rules of professional conduct governing me as an attorney.  Those rules expressly state two things.  First:

Maintaining The Integrity Of The Profession

Rule 8.4 Misconduct

It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to:

(a) violate or attempt to violate the Rules of Professional Conduct, knowingly assist or induce another to do so, or do so through the acts of another;

(b) commit a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other respects;

(c) engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation;

(d) engage in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice;

Second:

Maintaining The Integrity Of The Profession

Rule 8.3 Reporting Professional Misconduct

(a) A lawyer who knows that another lawyer has committed a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct that raises a substantial question as to that lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other respects, shall inform the appropriate professional authority.

(Please notice the “shall” in the above rule.  It isn’t optional.  We didn’t have a choice.)

In addition to our professional responsibility, both the reporting attorney and I personally believed we had a moral obligation to protect the women whom the conspirators were recruiting into their scheme, the parents who were fraudulently induced to illegally buy the children, and the resulting children, as well as the ART industry as a whole.  We did not want this scheme to continue and later become public in a way that showed we, as the industry, knew about it yet did nothing to stop it.  It was our responsibility to do something, no matter how uncomfortable or unpalatable it was.

We could have reported the scheme to either the relevant lawyer’s boards of professional responsibility or, if, as I believed, there was national and international fraud involved, to the FBI.  Because there were two different responsibility boards involved (California for Ms. Erickson and Maryland for Ms. Neiman), there was the risk that the investigations would not be coordinated in either time or scope.  This created a greater possibility that the conspirators could cover their tracks and deny responsibility.  Those boards also could not do anything meaningful about Ms. Chambers’ involvement since she was not an attorney.  Therefore, I decided we should go to the FBI to determine whether they would investigate the allegations based on the facts as I knew them.

When I contacted the Minnesota Bureau, the investigators were less than enthusiastic.  Minnesota is not exactly an ART “hotspot,” and they viewed the conduct as originating in either California or Maryland.  They told me to send a general inquiry addressed to their San Diego office and would not even give me a personal contact in that office.  I was skeptical that such an inquiry would be successful, so I decided to contact Andy Vorzimer because he had worked with San Diego law enforcement in previous industry issues (i.e. – SurroGenesis and others).

When I contacted Andy, I learned that he had been contacted separately about the scheme by another ART attorney whom the surrogate had retained to represent her in connection with a pregnancy related to the scheme.  We both agreed that it made sense for Andy to initiate contact with the appropriate authorities in San Diego to see if they would investigate the allegations.  I thought that this was the most fair course of action since the FBI could investigate the scheme in a unified fashion on both coasts and would do so confidentially.  In addition, the FBI would actually exonerate Ms. Erickson and the others if, indeed, there was no illegal activity going on.  Unfortunately, there was, and the investigation and the conspirators’ subsequent guilty pleas irrefutably confirmed it.

All of the ART attorneys involved in identifying and reporting this matter are, indeed, Ms. Erickson’s competitors in some fashion.  We all practice in the same area for the same potential clients.  However, NONE of the attorneys were ill-motivated by that competition to Ms. Erickson’s personal detriment in reporting this matter.  Frankly, there is plenty of business for all of us, and most of us practice in different areas of the country.  We simply had an overriding ethical obligation that we could not professionally or personally ignore.  If we had ignored the information that was, literally, thrust upon us, we would have become personally complicit in the scheme as much as the conspirators themselves.

I wish I had not been one of the persons in our industry who received this information.  I wish I had not been one of the ones who had to decide what to do and whether to do it.  But I was.  When the story broke more than a week ago, I told someone, “I don’t know whether to be happy or sad.”  I am happy that we were able to successfully police our own industry.  I am happy for the future birth mothers, parents, and children who will never become involved.  I am sad, however, for the conspirators, the poor decisions they made, and the very real and very appropriate consequences they face.  I am sad for them and their families.  I am sad that our area was subjected to yet more negative publicity and scrutiny.  I hope this never happens again.  The only way to make that more likely is to have reported it as we did and for Ms. Erickson, Ms. Chambers, and Ms. Neiman to be appropriately punished.  It is called accountability and deterrence.

Shame on anyone who is out there whispering that Ms. Erickson and the others were simply the unfortunate objects of the envy and conspiracy of her peers.  Those whispers are based on misinformation and are the mere mutterings of those who are biased and woefully uninformed.  Mr. Vorzimer, I, and all the other ART attorneys who brought this to light (as a collective industry group and not as mean-spirited individuals) behaved ethically and did exactly what should have been done.  The only unethical behavior was that of the conspirators, and they have only themselves to blame for their circumstances and consequences.  Let’s put the accountability where it truly belongs.

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