Theresa Erickson, a former prominent Californian surrogacy lawyer, was last Friday sentenced to five months in prison, nine months home confinement, three years of supervised release and a $70,000 dollar fine plus restitution for her role as ring leader of what prosecutors termed an illegal international baby-selling ring. Her sentence follows the prison sentence that was delivered to her co-conspirator and Maryland lawyer, Hilary Neiman, last December. Carla Chambers, the third co-conspirator, also received five months in prison for her role and guilty plea to knowingly receiving money from an illegal enterprise.
The legacy of this case will create longstanding issues for the intended parents, surrogates and children involved. A point noted by the federal judge who stated that Erickson and her co-conspirators had tainted the birth stories of the children involved. Erickson acknowledged her wrongdoing in court and said she had lost her way.
The six year scam, which involved at least 12 fake surrogacy arrangements, stands as a stark reminder of what can happen when surrogacy and assisted reproduction goes wrong. US prosecutors delivered a statement in court stating that Erickson had been motivated by greed and that she had preyed upon people’s most basic need to have and raise a child, charging childless couples $100,000 or more to become intended parents and step into falsified ‘surrogacy arrangements’ where surrogates were already pregnant using donor embryo treatment in the Ukraine.
Assisted reproduction and surrogacy can offer hope to many people who are unable to have a child of their own. Surrogacy can deliver the reality of a much wanted child and family after years of personal heartbreak and upset. The actions of these individuals have, however, left their mark and raised questions about the control and regulation of assisted reproduction across the world and the role of the professionals involved. International surrogacy arrangements raise a number of complex legal and practical issues for intended parents and surrogates to get to grips with, in what remains an expanding and fast moving area of law and practice. This case shows that assisted reproduction and surrogacy is not without its risks and that great care is needed at all stages of the process.