As a result of recent exposés in the Los Angeles Times and New York Times on crooked surrogate agencies, I am receiving a lot of questions on how to select a reputable surrogate agency. Unfortunately, there is no single repository of information on surrogate agencies, their experience or client satisfaction. This leaves infertility patients with very little information before making a substantial financial, time and emotional investment with an agency. Increasingly, patients are attracted to surrogate programs based upon an attractive website, published testimonials or referrals from purportedly neutral companies. In other instances, patients are induced to retain a program based upon unrealistically low fees charged by the agency. So over the next few weeks I am going to blog about some of the red flags that should set off alarm bells when considering an agency.
To kick this off, my first recommendation is to confirm that the agency actually operates out of a physical location that you can visit and inspect. Many agencies conceal their address and that should immediately disqualify them from consideration. Take for example the agency profiled in the Los Angeles Times exposé last month, B Coming. As you will see from a screen capture of their website, only a Post Office Box is available.
. If you were to look at their Contact Information page, you would only find this:
B Coming is not the first nor will it be the last agency to conceal their address from the public. Many years ago a very popular surrogate and egg donor agency known as Options also withheld their physical location. When I questioned the owner of Options about her decision to withhold her address, she explained to me that it was to prevent her from being served with potential lawsuits. When 60 Minutes did a report on this program, they were required to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement before they were allowed on the premises. As for the premises, it was an empty office. According to the landlord, Options would bring in rental furniture anytime they had a media request. By the way, Options closed their doors and disappeared without notice leaving all of their clients in the lurch.
The evaluation of an agency cannot end upon being presented with a physical address. It is necessary to actually visit the agency at its place of business. In the case of SurroGenesis, they claimed to have 60 offices around the world. However, most of these locations were nothing but mail drops or false addresses. Other agencies today target international couples. By doing so, they reduce the risk of a couple actually traveling to the United States and inspecting the agency. Whether you live in the United States or abroad, it is incumbent upon you to do your due diligence which requires that you actually visit the agency you plan on retaining.
Consumers would never consider purchasing a car without taking a test drive or buying a home without a property inspection. Yet too many couples today fall prey to scurrilous agencies who, like any successful swindler, exploits the trust of their victims. So before you spend $100,000.00 on having a child, take the time to insist on a face-to-face meeting at the agency’s principal place of business. While there, be sure to meet the staff that are listed on the agency’s website.
The overwhelming number of agencies in this industry are ethical and adhere to the highest industry standards. Unfortunately isolated cases like B Coming, SurroGenesis and Options dominate the headlines. With a little bit of diligence, however, you can avoid becoming a victim.