More information on the criminal investigation taking place in Thailand involving IVF clinics offering gender selection, surrogacy and egg donation services:
AFTER news that Chinese people have been coming to Thailand for in vitro fertilisation (IVF) procedures that allow specific selection of a baby’s sex, police are checking up on 12 “targeted” private clinics nationwide that reportedly provide illegal fertility services. Pol Lt-Colonel Chatmongkol Wasin-amorn, deputy superintendent of the Consumer Protection Police Division, said police would arrest those involved on human-trafficking charges if the fertility technology has been developed and promoted in a way that could be prosecuted under that framework. Online advertisements that carry faulty messages such as claiming that clinics in Thailand are legally entitled to carry out IVF procedure that allows sex selection will result in the punishment of both the website owner and the information provider.
Chatmongkol made his statement at a press conference on Tuesday that was jointly organised by the Public Health Ministry and the Medical Council of Thailand. Department of Health Service Support chief Dr Boonreung Trireungwarawat affirmed that Thai law strictly controlled IVF and gestational surrogacy as well as prohibiting the selling of eggs and the sex selection of embryos.
Illegal clinics and practitioners face jail terms of up to three years and fines of Bt60,000, he warned. “Currently, there are 45 fertility clinics that are approved by the department and the Royal Thai College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. “Seven or eight more clinics are applying for licences,” he said. He added that 300 gynaecologist clinics would be invited to a meeting about the legal requirements surrounding IVF, where they would be urged to be vigilant against law violators.
Medical Council of Thailand president Dr Somsak Lohlekha said the council prohibited the sex selection of babies and payment to egg/sperm donors or surrogate mothers. Surrogacy could only proceed if the egg and sperm came from a spouse or a blood relative.
Doctors found to have breached the council’s regulations in this matter would be deemed guilty of seriously contravening medical ethics, which is punishable by revocation of a medical licence. Somsak also said the council would make a proposal to the Food and Drug Administration to enact stricter control of sperm imports.
Contrary to popular wisdom, surrogacy is not permitted in Thailand notwithstanding the fact that it has become a popular reproductive tourism location. Amid unsubstantiated reports of a government crackdown yesterday on some IVF clinics operating surrogacy programs, we thought we would revisit this investigative report from late last year on the surrogacy trade in Thailand:
Surrogacy is illegal in Thailand and yet women are still lured here, in their droves, to be part of this lucrative industry. Journalist Patrick Abboud travelled to Thailand to uncover this booming black market and find out more about the women that literally have their wombs up for rent. During his investigation he uncovered the untold horrors and risks associated with international commercial surrogacy. Abboud, told news.com.au that while commercial surrogacy was highly illegal in Thailand agencies happily existed under the noses of authorities.
He said surrogates were being exploited and agencies were ready and willing to cash in on them and the future parents. During his trip he interviewed one Australian couple whose daughter was born to a surrogate as well as women at the centre of this lucrative industry.
The couple, James and Mikey, told Abboud they travelled to Thailand after exhausting all other options for parenthood. International commercial surrogacy is banned in New South Wales, Queensland and the ACT, which means babies born overseas aren’t allowed back into the country. The men, who went above and beyond to ensure their surrogate was taken care of both financially and physically, revealed just how badly they wanted a baby. “We wanted a family and we wanted to get it done and we just went over there and went full steam ahead and did what we needed to do … when it comes down to it, people are going to do what they need to do to get their families.”
After two trips to Thailand to provide sperm and for the birth of their little girl, they got their daughter, now four months old, back into Australia through a complex set of loopholes within different federal and state laws. They said despite the threat of being charged as criminals, they would do it all over again. And while this couple and their surrogate had a happy ending, Abboud questions the price surrogates really pay for having another person’s child.
He said Thailand was open to exploitation because of the lack of legislation to protect women and, like any industry in a country with vulnerable or impoverished people, there is “inevitably a black market spawned to take advantage of them”.
“Many of the agencies, none of which would take part in my interviews, told me their surrogates are paid between $10-15,000, yet one couple I spoke with said they spent between $40-50,000, so that’s quite a difference. “These same agencies told me surrogates weren’t married or hadn’t had other children but that wasn’t always the case. “Essentially these women are wombs for hire.”
And when he did get to speak to surrogates, Abboud said it was clear their “minders” were telling them what to say. One surrogate named Parnee from New Life Thailand, a popular agency for gay couples, denied she was being exploited but admitted money was a driving factor in luring Thai women into the industry. “I’m 23 years old, I’ve been pregnant for three months and two weeks,” she said. “No one forced me to become a surrogate … one of my relatives was a surrogate mother before and she is doing it again now. She told me that it’s a good thing and you get paid at the same time.”
Abboud said the demand meant women from nearby countries were also being trafficked into Thailand with the promise of work, but were instead being forcibly impregnated against their will.
Hard to believe this managed to go on long enough to illegally record more than 12,500 victims:
Johns Hopkins Hospital has agreed to a $190 million settlement with more than 8,000 patients of a gynecologist who secretly photographed and videotaped women’s bodies in the examining room with a pen-like camera he wore around his neck, lawyers said Monday. Dr. Nikita Levy was fired in February 2013, days after an employee alerted hospital authorities about her suspicions and he was forced to turn over the camera. He committed suicide ten days later. Investigators discovered roughly 1,200 videos and 140 images stored on a series of servers in his home.
“All of these women were brutalized by this,” said the women’s lead attorney, Jonathan Schochor. “Some of these women needed counseling, they were sleepless, they were dysfunctional in the workplace, they were dysfunctional at home, they were dysfunctional with their mates. This breach of trust, this betrayal — this is how they felt.”
The agreement is one of the largest settlements on record in the U.S. involving sexual misconduct by a physician.
It all but closes a case that never produced criminal charges but threatened the reputation of one of the world’s leading medical institutions and, according to lawyers, traumatized thousands of women, even though their faces were not visible in the images and it could not be established with certainty which patients were recorded or how many.
While on an emotional level, I support these charges and hope they throw the book at this slimeball, intellectually I realize this is a slippery slope towards extending personhood rights to a fetus:
A Kansas man will stand trial on first-degree murder charges after he allegedly laced his pregnant girlfriend’s pancakes with an abortion pill that caused her to miscarry.
Bollig reportedly confessed to crushing up the abortion-inducing medication mifepristone and mixing it into pancakes he served to Naomi Abbott, who was eight weeks pregnant at the time. According to reports, Bollig told investigators he purchased five pills online but used only one to induce Abbott’s miscarriage. Prosecutors charged Bollig with aggravated assault for lacing Abbot’s food and with first-degree murder in the death of the eight- to ten-week fetus Abbott was carrying.
In a preliminary hearing on the charges against Bolling, WaKeeney, Kansas, police chief Terry Eberle testified that an investigation into the miscarriage began almost immediately because an officer had informed him that Abbott, a jailer in Trego Couty, had expressed concerns to another officer that Bollig might be putting something into his girlfriend’s food to end the pregnancy. Dr. Lyle Noordhoek, a pathologist who performed an autopsy on the fetus and analyzed a blood sample from Abbott, testified that Abbott tested positive for mifepristone.
He is like a cockroach that just won’t go away:
A local con man who has been ripping off people for years – and even served time in jail – is back at it again, Team 10 has found. The man is a disbarred attorney, and tried to attack the Team 10 reporter asking questions about his alleged current scam. Team 10 has done many stories on Steven Liss – who goes by several names, and opens up businesses under new names. He moves his office around, though he seems to prefer the beach area.
“There’s a woman in Idaho,” said Investigative Reporter Mitch Blacher as he followed Liss on a San Diego sidewalk. “You took her $7,500, after promising her a baby – why don’t you give her money back?”
A woman who didn’t want to give her last name, said Liss promised her a baby. Melissa told Team 10 she was desperate to adopt a baby after the birth of her stillborn son. “It actually sounded like a great opportunity,” Melissa from Idaho said. She added Liss took advantage of her when she was at an emotional vulnerable point. She said Liss took her money, but never was able to adopt a baby through his business.
Team 10 also talked to another woman with another complaint against Liss. Andrea Zelones said she was contacted by Liss about an administrative assistant position at his business. “I Googled him because I would Google anyone I would work for,” Zelones said.
She found several past Team 10 stories on Liss, including when his attorney’s license was revoked by the California Bar Association. “I went oh my goodness,” she said. His license was revoked for cheating clients in many different cases, including divorce and adoptions. Zelones said Liss told her he was successful in the surrogacy business, and in creating new families. “He says he places hundreds of ads a week, looking for surrogates and donors,” Zelones said.
Because he is disbarred, it is illegal for Liss to advertise a family law practice, but that is what Team 10 found him doing. The ad led Team 10 to his most recent office in Pacific Beach. However, Liss would not answer any questions about Melissa’s baby or his surrogacy business. Instead, Liss used something to assault the reporter after a struggle over the camera used to record him.
“He preys on people who are willing to do anything,” Melissa said. “When you hit that emotional spot in your life, tragedies happen like that, he preys on those emotions.”
Liss has been arrested, convicted, and disbarred. Team 10 wondered how he can keep scamming women, and took the question to the district attorney’s office. A spokesperson said they were looking into the case. Team 10 will later report on what they find.
Stay far, far away.
A report out of the UK states that there have been “1,679 adverse incidents in fertility clinics in the UK between 2010 and 2012.” These incidents have been categorized by name: Grade A, B, and C. Read on to find out more about what has gone wrong and the severity of these incidents.
A clinic used sperm from the wrong donor in fertility treatment, a report by the regulator says.
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) warned clinics “too many” mistakes were being made.
Its report showed one in every 100 women treated had experienced some form of “adverse incident”, although most would not have affected their odds of having a baby.
The regulator has called on clinics to eradicate “avoidable errors”.
There were 1,679 adverse incidents in fertility clinics in the UK between 2010 and 2012.
Three of them were in the most serious – or grade-A – category.
In one case a woman was having fertility treatment using donated sperm. She wanted a child who would be genetically related to an elder sibling, but sperm from the wrong donor was used.
No further details have been released to protect the family’s anonymity.
A separate grade-A case involved embryos being contaminated, probably with sperm. And in the third incident, sperm were removed from storage too soon.
There were 714 grade-B incidents, which include the loss of embryos or equipment malfunctions affecting embryo quality.
There were 815 grade-C errors, such as eggs left unusable or women’s ovaries being “over-stimulated” to produce eggs.
HFEA chairwoman Sally Cheshire, said “We are committed to ensuring that clinics provide the safest and highest quality service to their patients.
“These results show that, in the main, clinics are doing a good job of minimising the number of serious errors, and this should be welcomed.
“However, there remain too many grade-C mistakes, such as breaches of confidentiality.
“As patients have often told us, these mistakes may be less serious at first glance but they can still be very upsetting.”
“Clinics can and should be eradicating these sorts of avoidable errors, which will go a long way towards reducing patient distress and improving the overall experience of IVF treatment.”
ABC News out of Australia has a damning exposé on Planet Hospital and Rudy Rupak. The investigative piece reveals new and even more troubling allegations about the activities of Planet Hospital and the perils of working in Mexico:
A subsequent tip-off from a very disgruntled Planet Hospital client soon revealed that the Cancun dream was fast turning into a nightmare – clients fleeced out of tens of thousands of dollars each, surrogates abandoned, and a trail of unpaid bills that led all the way to Mr Rupak’s upmarket home in a well-to-do gated community in Los Angeles.
We were put in touch with Catherine Moscarello, a US citizen and former employee of Planet Hospital, who had arranged to commission her own surrogacy via Mr Rupak and Planet Hospital. Despite her best efforts to do proper due diligence, Ms Moscarello was horrified to discover she had been lied to about her own surrogate.
Catherine Moscarello, a former employee of Planet Hospital Photo: Catherine Moscarello, a former employee of Planet Hospital, said she was lied to about her own surrogate. (Foreign Correspondent)
“We were told she was a 22-year-old single mum and she had a little boy. That’s all we were told,” she said. “She was barely 18. Her son was not a boy, he was a baby. He was less than nine months old and he had breastfed for at least six of those nine months. “In addition, she had uterine cysts, which they did a procedure to remove the day before our transfer. “I feel like we wasted two embryos. She was not qualified to be a surrogate. She should have never passed screening.”
Ms Moscarello’s personal experience prompted her to take a closer look at Planet Hospital and its processes. She quickly realised that Mr Rupak was less a Walt Disney and more in the mould of fraudster Bernie Madoff. “Planet Hospital was run like a Ponzi scheme. With Rupak, it’s stall, it’s stall, stall, stall. “He just puts you off and puts you off and puts you off.”
Foreign Correspondent returned to Cancun, and as we dug deeper, a far more sinister picture emerged. The surrogacy house was padlocked and disgruntled intended parents were out of pocket tens of thousands of dollars, some with their embryos stuck in limbo. Fertility clinics, which had been employed by Mr Rupak, were refusing to release the fertilised eggs because he had apparently not paid his bills.
Foreign Correspondent spoke to Mr de Lucia back home in San Francisco, who said he had lost $US22,500. Three embryos were produced, but they are still locked away in a Cancun clinic. The clinic is refusing to release them unless Mr de Lucia pays another $US5,000 to cover some of Planet Hospital’s unpaid bills.
Mr de Lucia says he is furious with Mr Rupak. “He’s cheated too many people. [It is] one thing being cheated when you’re doing a business transaction, but a very different thing is when you’re playing with people’s feelings and dreams,” he said. “It’s really hard for a gay couple to have a kid and going through the surrogacy is a mess, and you’re playing with that.”
Adriana Rincon, one of the surrogates Foreign Correspondent first met at the Planet Hospital surrogacy house, was couch-surfing in Mexico City, all but destitute, as she grappled with the emotional fallout of having miscarried twins in Cancun. She received virtually no support when she lost the pregnancy and was clearly grieving the loss of babies she had never quite known how she would give away. To add insult to injury, Ms Rincon had been paid only a fraction of the money promised.
Foreign Correspondent traced him to California, where he was still operating out of an office in Calabasas, a celebrity enclave outside Los Angeles. He agreed to an interview to set the record straight, he said. At once charming and apologetic, Mr Rupak was still determined to put his point across. For the people he has let down, it just does not compensate for the harm he has done. “I for one believe he’s a thief. There’s no question in my mind,” Mr de Lucia said. “Everything he does is calculated to preserve his interests and if other people are injured or harmed or scarred – not a big deal, no interest.”
Mr Rupak is now being forced into bankruptcy by former clients. The FBI is also investigating Planet Hospital’s surrogacy operations. Mr Rupak admits to making bad business decisions, but nothing more.
Sunday’s issue of The New York Times features a fascinating front page article written by Tamar Lewin on the world of surrogacy. Many agencies, lawyers (including our own Andrew Vorzimer), intended parents, and surrogates were interviewed. I can safely say that this is one of the most informative articles I’ve read in a long time about the process. A portion of the article is below, but I highly recommend that you read it in its entirety at this link.
At home in Lisbon, a gay couple invited friends over to a birthday celebration, and at the end of the evening shared a surprise — an ultrasound image of their baby, moving around in the belly of a woman in Pennsylvania being paid to carry their child.
“Everyone was shocked, and asked everything about how we do this,” said Paulo, who spoke on the condition that neither his last name nor that of his husband, João, be used since what they were doing is a crime in Portugal.
While babies through surrogacy have become increasingly common in the United States, with celebrities like Elton John, Sarah Jessica Parker and Jimmy Fallon openly discussing how they started a family, the situation is quite different in Portugal — as it is in most of the world where the hiring of a woman to carry a child is forbidden. And as Paulo and João have discovered, even bringing home a baby born abroad through surrogacy can be complicated.
In an era of globalization, the market for children crosses national borders; witness the longtime flow of Americans who have gone overseas to adopt babies from South Korea, China, Russia and Guatemala.
Other than the United States, only a few countries — among them India, Thailand, Ukraine and Mexico — allow paid surrogacy. As a result, there is an increasing flow in the opposite direction, with the United States drawing affluent couples from Europe, Asia and Australia. Indeed, many large surrogacy agencies in the United States say international clients — gay, straight, married or single — provide the bulk of their business.
The traffic highlights a divide between the United States and much of the world over fundamental questions about what constitutes a family, who is considered a legal parent, who is eligible for citizenship and whether paid childbirth is a service or exploitation.
In many nations, a situation that splits motherhood between the biological mother and a surrogate carrier is widely believed to be against the child’s best interests. And even more so when three women are involved: the genetic mother, whose egg is used; the mother who carries the baby; and the one who commissioned and will raise the child.
Many countries forbid advertising foreign or domestic surrogacy services and allow only what is known as altruistic surrogacy, in which the woman carrying the baby receives payment only for her expenses. Those countries abhor what they call the commercialization of baby making and view commercial surrogacy as inherently exploitive of poor women, noting that affluent women generally do not rent out their wombs.
But while many states, including New York, ban surrogacy, others, like California, welcome it as a legitimate business. Together, domestic and international couples will have more than 2,000 babies through gestational surrogacy in the United States this year, almost three times as many as a decade ago. Ads galore seek egg donors, would-be parents, would-be surrogates. Many surrogates and intended parents find each other on the Internet and make their arrangements independently, sometimes without a lawyer or a formal contract.
The agencies that match intended parents and surrogates are unregulated, creating a marketplace where vulnerable clients yearning for a baby can be preyed upon by the unscrupulous or incompetent. Some agencies pop up briefly, then disappear. Others have taken money that was supposed to be in escrow for the surrogate, or failed to pay the fees the money was to cover.
Surrogacy began in the United States more than 30 years ago, soon after the first baby was born through in vitro fertilization in England. At the time, most surrogates were also the genetic mothers, becoming pregnant through artificial insemination with the sperm of the intended father. But that changed after the Baby M case in 1986, in which the surrogate, Mary Beth Whitehead, refused to give the baby to the biological father and his wife. In the wake of the spectacle of two families fighting over a baby who belonged to both of them, traditional surrogacy gave way to gestational surrogacy, in which an embryo is created in the laboratory — sometimes using eggs and sperm from the parents, sometimes from donors — and transferred to a surrogate who has no genetic link to the baby.
While surrogacy is still banned in France, today marks a huge step for French families with children born by surrogate mothers, as their children can now be legally recognized as their own. Read more about this wonderful new development below or at this link:
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ordered France to recognise children born to surrogate mothers abroad even though surrogacy is banned on French territory. Refusal to do so undermines children’s identity, the court ruled in cases brought by two French families.
France has the right to ban surrogate parenthood but not to refuse granting legal to parent-child relationships of children born to surrogate mothers, the ECHR ruled on Thursday.
The “legal guinea pigs”, as one father described them, were two families, the Mennessons and the Labassees, who have children born to surrogate mothers in the US, where the practise is legal in some states.
Twins, Valentina and Fiorella Menesson, were born in 2000 in California, having been conceived from their father’s sperm and a donor’s oocyte, and have US citizenship.
Juliette Labassee was born in Minnesota in 2001 in similar circumstances, and is also a US national.
Although a California court had recognised Dominique and Sylvie Menesson as the twins’ parents before their birth a long legal battle in France ended with the appeal court refusing the status.
Francis and Monique Labassee had appealed against an official refusal to recognise Juliette as their daughter.
The ECHR ruled that the French decision was an infringement of the children’s right to respect for their private life, while recognising France’s right to declare surrogacy illegal on its territory and its concern that French parents’ might go abroad to use the procedure.
The status quo “undermined the children’s identity within French society”, the court found and meant that their inheritance rights were less favourable than those of other children.
It ordered the French state to pay each of the children 5,000 euros as well as legal costs.
“This is a great relief,” declared Dominique Menesson after the judgement and he called on French authorities not to appeal against it.
The couple’s lawyer, Patrice Spinosi, claimed that 2,000 children are in the same situation as his clients’ children.
President François Hollande told Têtu magazine in 2012 that changing the current law could “open the way to surrogacy”.
The government has been loath to tackle the question since the right-wing campaign against its gay marriage bill, when opponents accused the Socialists of undermining the family and wanting to legalise medically assisted procreation.
Surrogacy is legal in some European countries, including the UK and the Netherlands, and in some states in the US.
Today, Yahoo! Shine posted an update on Rachelle Friedman, known briefly as the ‘paralyzed bride.’
Rachelle’s story made international headlines in 2010 when she was pushed into a pool at her bachelorette party and suffered a C6 spinal cord injury. A year later, she married the love of her life, but was uncertain if she would ever be able to have a child. Thanks to her blog, a friend has volunteered to be her surrogate, so it looks like Rachelle’s dream will come true after all.
Read more of this wonderful story below:
“The first thing I asked was, ‘Can I still have kids?’” Friedman, who lives in Knightdale, N.C., tells Yahoo Shine about the day that she found out she was paralyzed from the chest down and would be confined to a wheelchair. Although the answer was yes, eventually Friedman realized that it was too risky to go off of the medicine that she takes every day to regulate her blood pressure in addition to pain medication she relies on. She wrote a blog post about the decision to look for a surrogate, and suddenly an old friend, Laurel Humes, reached out, offering herself up for the job.
For Friedman, who became friends with Humes while at East Carolina University but lost touch after her accident, Humes’s offer was a true gift. The old friends reconnected and met several times in person. The California-based organization Surrogacy Together also saw Friedman’s initial blog post and offered to help defray some of the medical costs of the surrogacy. Despite the group’s offer, though, Friedman and Chapman still needed to pay for travel, accommodations, and other fees associated with the surrogacy and have started a GoFundMe page for people who want to help.
“People think that because we can’t afford a surrogate, we can’t afford a child,” Friedman says about some of the feedback she’s gotten about the fundraising campaign, but she stresses that short-term costs and long-term costs are very different things and explains that her family is financially stable otherwise. “People think that because the surrogate has come forward, that’s the cost. But you have to look at $5,000 for hormone meds for each of us, the cost of genetic testing, travel for both of us cross-country. We’re still hoping to fundraise.”
She also has had some suggest that the friend who initially pushed her into the pool, causing her injury, should have stepped up as a surrogate, but Friedman disagrees with that. “I don’t want my child’s life to start out of guilt,” she insists. The fact that Humes and her husband, Charlie, already had a child of their own was also an important factor, says Friedman: “She already is a mom and knows what it takes.”
So far, Friedman has already gone through a round of egg harvesting, and there are four healthy embryos in California waiting for Humes. If the pregnancy takes on the first try in August, Friedman and Chapman could become parents in May or June 2015.
Friedman’s work as a writer and motivational speaker has helped change the way that people think about the disabled, and now she hopes to change the public perception of surrogacy and eliminate some of the stigmas and stereotypes. Her future son or daughter will know Humes and know the story of his or her birth. “Our kid will know her and what she did for us. I plan on being friends with Laurel forever.”
Legislators in Kansas on Monday debated a bill that would criminalize surrogate motherhood.Republican Senator, Mary Pilcher-Cook (pictured above) who is the chairwoman of the Senate Public Health Welfare Committee introduced the bill. The bill proposed that any individual involved in the creation of a surrogacy arrangement in Kansas would be guilty of a misdemeanour crime, […]
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