With the extraordinary science that benefits childless couples and the growing popularity of reproductive technologies, the prediction from early naysayers that baby-making would create criminal, social and ethical problems can no longer be ignored.
Public awareness of the foibles of procedures such as artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization, and anonymous sperm donation began with the news that a California woman, Nadya Suleman, gave birth to eight children via in vitro fertilization in 2009. Twelve embryos had been implanted, apparently at her request.
Ms. Suleman’s octuplets joined her already large family of six children, also born through in vitro fertilization. That she was a single mother with limited financial resources and was eventually compelled to work as a stripper and a nude model further rankled critics who denounced her physician, Dr. Michael Kamrava, who later lost his medical license.
The latest scandal in the baby-making industry involves a home-grown business called Canadian Fertility Consultants, with offices in British Columbia and Ontario, whose CEO, Leia Picard, has been charged with 27 criminal offences including purchasing sperm and egg from a donor and paying a surrogate to carry a baby for a client.
Under Canadian law it is illegal to pay sperm or egg donors and surrogates are only allowed to be paid for their reasonable expenses. While limited information has been released by the RCMP, it has been reported that two women who donated eggs were paid $5000.00 each.
Ms. Picard has also been charged with four counts of forgery in relation to allegations that her clients received false profiles of two of her sperm donors and two potential surrogate mothers.
Canada’s legislation has been in force for almost nine years, but this appears to be the first time that charges have resulted from a breach of the law, with related criminal charges.
There is speculation that Ms. Picard’s present legal problems arise from her purely innocent interaction with Maryland lawyer Hilary Nieman, who ran a surrogacy business with California lawyer, Theresa Erickson, that later proved to be anything but altruistic.
Under a unique California law, a woman can enter into a surrogacy agreement with prospective parents, but the agreement must be signed and finalized prior to the fertilization of the surrogate. Where there is a surrogacy agreement, the prospective parents do not need to go through an adoption to become the child’s legal parents as the child’s birth certificate will record the names of the prospective parents, not the surrogate’s name.
Lawyers Nieman and Erickson both specialized in reproductive technology law. Working together, they paid American women an average of $40,000 to travel to the Ukraine to be implanted with embryos. This was necessary because no doctor in California would do the in vitro procedure under the circumstances presented by the surrogates.
The lawyers got around the requirement for an executed agreement prior to fertilization by submitting forged documents to the Court which attested to the agreement being signed as required by the law.
Ms. Erickson with Hilary Nieman’s help, accumulated a stable of new-born babies ready to be sold to unsuspecting couples for $100,000 to $150,000 each.
In the twelfth week of their pregnancy the women, referred to as “gestational carriers”, flew back to the United States where the lawyers would find a couple who were told that a surrogacy agreement with another couple had fallen through after the couple backed out.
For couples who had tried numerous procedures over many years without the blessing of a child, the prospects of a new-born baby was like winning the lottery.
Erickson and Nieman, both plead guilty to wire fraud and conspiracy, involving the sale of twelve babies. Although lawyers for the State and Ms. Nieman agreed to a plea bargain of nine months of home confinement, the Court would have no part of that and sentenced Nieman to five months in federal prison and seven months of home confinement. She was also order to pay back profits of $133,000 and was later disbarred.
We now await full particulars of the charges against Ms. Picard, but payments of several thousand dollars to egg donors hardly seems worth the cost of the RCMP’s year-long investigation. Allegations of forgery, however, puts an entirely different spin on the agency’s practices.
Ms. Picard says she will vigourously defend against the charges and is inviting donations to her legal fund.
Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang