FSBO (For Sale By Others) Babies

September 2, 2011 • Posted in Blog

D. Joy Riley, M.D., M.A.

Executive Director

As the airline steward offered newspapers to passengers, the front page story about child-snatching and selling in China caught my eye (International Herald Tribune, 5 August 2011). In at least one mountainous region of China, parents have not been assured of keeping the children they birth. The Ministry of Public Security recently announced that 89 children had been rescued from child traffickers, but it is the local government that the populace of Longhui County fears. In that county, family planning officials reportedly seized at least sixteen children over the course of seven years (1999-2006). The process began with an onerous fine being levied for the birth of a child. The fee, often several times a family’s annual income, was too large for the parents to pay. Because they could not pay, their babies were taken and put up for adoption to foreigners, generating much revenue. The article reported that a tragedy finally brought an end to the nefarious practice in Longhui County in 2006. One family had a second child, and tried unsuccessfully to hide that fact from the family planning officials. A heavy fine was assessed, but the parents were too poor to pay it. So their eight-month-old boy was confiscated. When his mother tried to get him back from the authorities, a struggle occurred, resulting in the baby falling ten feet from a balcony.  The family planning officials then forgave the fine, and allowed the family to keep their brain-damaged son, along with the hospital bills. King Solomon, they are not!

Although this may appear to be “old news,” the story had not been published until a Chinese magazine boldly reported the abductions this past May. An investigation ensued, and The International Herald Tribune published the story on 5 August.

On 9 August 2011, another story of baby-selling was reported — in the United States.  It was reported in a press release by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), San Diego Division. Theresa Erickson, a lawyer specializing in reproductive law, pled guilty of conspiring to sell babies (Note: GC = Gestational Carriers, women who act as surrogates; IP = Intended Parents):

In her guilty plea, Erickson admitted that she and her conspirators used GCs to create an inventory of unborn babies that they would sell for over $100,000 each. They accomplished this by paying women to become implanted with embryos in overseas clinics. If the women (now GCs) sustained their pregnancies into the second trimester, the conspirators offered the babies to prospective parents by falsely representing that the unborn babies were the result of legitimate surrogacy arrangements, but that the original IPs had backed out.

Erickson’s co-conspirators are Hilary Neiman (Chevy Chase, Maryland) and Carla Chambers (Las Vegas, Nevada). Eggs and sperm from donors were used to produce embryos (in vitro fertilization — IVF), which were then implanted in would-be surrogates.  The surrogates had to travel to  Ukraine, where costs for IVF are substantially less than in many other locales.  They also had to agree to give birth in California: “It is one of the only states where parents of a biologically unrelated baby carried by a surrogate can be listed on a birth certificate without going through an adoption.” Perhaps the “friendly legal climate” has been too friendly?

The L.A. Times profiled several surrogates who had been duped by the baby-sellers, only one of whom had received any payment; the story ran on 13 August.

Here is a compilation of the stories:

·China, Longhui County, Baby-Snatching/Selling

·Age:  Babies, often several months old

·Source:  Babies born in excess of the one-child policy; children of parents without a marriage registration

·Baby-sellers: Family planning officials and local government officials

·Prices: Parents charged fees in excess of annual income; Income generated from foreign adoptions unknown

·Outcome: Babies often placed for adoption by foreigners

·Investigation a result of a report by Caixin, a Chinese magazine; reports have been discounted by the Communist Party’s newspaper

·News Source: International Herald Tribune (global edition of The New York Times), 5 August 2011.

·United States Baby-Selling Ring

·Age:  Fetuses in the womb, after the 1st trimester

·Source:  Sperm/Egg donors, with resulting IVF embryos implanted in women who traveled to Ukraine

·”Baby-Sellers”: Lawyer Teresa Erickson, specialist in reproductive law; author: Surrogacy and Embryo, Sperm & Egg Donation: What Were You Thinking? Considering IVF & Third-Party Reproduction; Carla Chambers, co-conspirator and surrogate; and Hilary Neiman, lawyer-specialist in reproductive law

·Prices: $100,000-$150,000 per child placed with family

·Outcome: At least 12 couples had infants placed with them.

·Investigation a result of the suspicions of surrogates, who sought legal advice; FBI was notified and investigated.

·News Source: Federal Bureau of Investigation, San Diego Division, 9 August 2011.

In China, the baby-snatching scandal in Longhui County has reputedly stopped, and recently, 89 children were rescued from child traffickers, as well.  Here in the United States, members of the “baby-selling ring” have been charged, pled guilty, and are awaiting sentencing.  Will we see any real change in the commodification of children?  An investigation into, and the closing of, legal loopholes that allow the international trafficking of babies and children seems a place to begin to avoid further episodes of “FSBO Babies.”