Ukrainian surrogacy has recently been placed in the spotlight following rare in-depth TV coverage of what’s reported to be Ukraine’s first ever surrogacy dispute. The TV programme ‘Podrobnosti’, filmed by Ukrainian TV Channel (Inter TV), covers the story of Ukrainian surrogate mother Irina Morozova who gave birth to twin boys following a surrogacy arrangement with Italian intended parents and who is now embroiled in a legal dispute to retain care of them.
I was delighted to be interviewed for the TV programme as an expert in UK surrogacy law, alongside leading Ukrainian professionals and experts including an official from the Ukrainian Ministry of Health and Vitoriya Rogatinskaya the director of the international surrogacy organization ‘The Supportive Motherhood’ and Jill Hawkins (the UK’s most well known surrogate mother).
The TV programme provides a rare glimpse of the surrogacy sector in the Ukraine and a direct interview with the Ukrainian surrogate mother Irina Morozova. Irina has been battling legally to retain care of the twins she gave birth to for the last year and a half . She seriously doubts the intentions of the Italian intended parents who commissioned the twins’ birth. Shockingly, she is worried that if she were to hand over the twins they would be sold for organ donation.
The programme reports that there is a growing surrogacy market in the Ukraine and that around 150 surrogate babies are born in the Ukraine to foreign intended parents each year. There is no international harmonization of surrogacy law and this can create all sorts of complex legal issues for intended parents, who can experience immigration problems bringing their child home after the birth and an often challenging legal process to obtain full parental status for their child. Irina’s story graphically demonstrates that surrogacy is not risk free and that surrogacy law disputes can arise, bringing further challenges for all those involved in the process.
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.