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My Thoughts On Tonya Collins’ Sentencing

This sentencing, while welcome news to many, in no way remedies the damage that was wrought by Tonya Collins. That harm was irreparable, the damage caused largely indiscernible and no prison sentence will ever make her victims whole again.

This case has struck a personal chord with me since early 2009 when the first victims approached me about irregularities at SurroGenesis. I was blessed to get to know many of the victims in the course of our representation. Several have become dear friends. I know the pain they felt. It was palpable. Not at the loss of their money, but rather the realization that they will likely never get the chance to become parents. All because of the depraved behavior of Tonya Collins.

I recognize that under our criminal justice system, yesterday’s sentence was a watershed moment in our industry as it represented the stiffest sentence ever handed down in a surrogacy scandal. But before we pat ourselves on the back and consider that justice has been served, we need to step back and remember that many of the victims will never get to see their baby take its first step, hear their toddler utter the words “mommy” or “daddy”, get a chance to walk their young adult down the aisle or have the unadulterated joy of being grandparents. The money that was embezzled was tangential, even superficial to the real story. Instead, it was merely a means to an end. It represented the chance to have a child. And sadly that is the untold story that will haunt these clients and friends forever.

No matter how much time Tonya Collins serves in prison, many of our clients and now my friends, have forever lost their chance at becoming parents. Tonya Collins did not just steal money. She stole the dreams of decent, caring and trusting people who had already been victimized by being unable to have a child without the help of an egg donor or surrogate. She preyed upon the most vulnerable, the most in need and the most hopeful.

So yes, our imperfect criminal justice system functioned as designed yesterday. Perhaps the sentencing will be a clarion call to the industry and will serve to deter similar malevolent conduct in the future. That would be a worthy legacy to this heinous scandal, I guess.

Yet I cannot feel good about the outcome. I cannot help but feel bad for Tonya Colllins’ young children who will be losing their mother for years. But at least Tonya Collins got to hold her children. One day, relatively soon, Tonya Collins will be reunited with her family. The cruel irony, just twenty-four hours after Mother’s Day, is that while Collins will be able to continue to enjoy this holiday with her children, many of her victims will never get that chance. And no amount of jail time or statements of remorse can change that.

Discussion

11 comments for “My Thoughts On Tonya Collins’ Sentencing”

  • Kathy

    While this was indeed a horrible crime, this is what happens when you have an unregulated, anything goes fertility industry run amok and driven by money. While appropriate sympathy is expressed here for the people who were victimized by this woman, why is it that similar attention and remorse is never expressed for the women who are turned into commodities to provide children for those with the means to purchase them? Where is the concern about the health risks that women are exposed to who serve as surrogates and egg suppliers? What about when their health is destroyed as a result of pumping their bodies with carcinogenic synthetic hormones? Where is the demand for long-term studies of the health risks to women? Where is the demand for strict, enforceable regulation of this out-of-control industry that’s making fertility doctors, surrogacy & egg brokers and attorneys rich at the expense of women? Where is the concern for the exploitation of women that is synonymous with these practices, especially poor, low income and otherwise financially vulnerable women? As Harold Cassidy, attorney in the Baby M case that started all this has said: “You’ll never see a rich woman serving as a surrogate.” Enough said.

    • http://www.vmfirm.com Andrew Vorzimer

      Hardly “enough said”, Kathy. Kind of odd that you would post such an inflammatory comment and then attempt to stifle any response — particularly given that your criticism was nothing more than a laundry list of oft-regurgitated questions that have been repeatedly debunked. So I have to assume you were merely being rhetorical and had no interest in educating yourself.

      But I have some questions for you: Do you believe women are incapable of making decisions about their own bodies? Do you believe women lack the capacity to educate themselves about the risks involved in pregnancy and make an informed decision to proceed? Do you believe a wealthier woman is more intelligent and capable of making decisions than one who is not? Would your concerns be addressed if only wealthy women serve as surrogates? Should only wealthy women be allowed to be mothers and should we have financial means tests before allowing any woman to undergo fertility treatment?

      Quite frankly, your argument is offensive and demeaning. Imagine all the stay-at-home moms who have given up their careers to raise their children and earn no income. You have disrespected them by linking income to intelligence.

      Further, you clearly have not read this Blog before as we routinely report upon every transgression in this industry in the hopes it will educate those considering ART and serve as a deterrent against future improper behavior. We have not only called for regulation of this industry for more than a decade, but have aggressively sought to have legislation passed to protect Intended Parents, Surrogates and Egg Donors alike. In fact, after working for more than two years on legislation with the California Assembly, we were successful in having California pass the most progressive laws in the world on surrogacy. Uncanny how facts get in the way of a baseless diatribe, eh?

      Also, to disabuse any reader who might believe some of your tripe, low-income earners are disqualified from being surrogates. Further, having handled more than 9,000 ART arrangements in my career, I can assure you that none of my clients have ever worked with a surrogate who was incapable of supporting herself and her family without the extra compensation that surrogacy affords. Every single surrogate I have ever worked with in 20 years has been considered, at a minimum, middle-class. In fact, just last week I drafted an agreement for a surrogate who earns $150,000 a year. You and Mr. Cassidy are still living in the 1980s. Since you are so fond of archaic quotes, Mr. Cassidy’s remark is reminiscent of something Thomas Watson, former Chairman of the Board of IBM once said, “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”

      • katiefroman

        Thank you. Well said.

  • katiefroman

    Have you ever gone through this process? For you to say some of the uneducated things that you did I would guess not. Surrogates (even through this manipulative “company” undergo health and psychological screening as well as background checks and they must not be on welfare (regarding the comment about a rich woman wouldn’t be a surrogate…I’ve known several to be honest). No one holds a gun to our heads and says that we MUST put out bodies in harms’ way to do this for someone else. We do it because we WANT to. We know the risks there are. I have been a surrogate twice now, once under Tonya Collins, it was never for the money; it was for the love I have for people and the joy I felt when I was able to hold my own child for the first time. I want others to feel that joy. I don’t mean this reply to come off cruelly but I do think you have the wrong idea about what this is all about. Surrogacy is a blessing. If I had not been able to have children of my own I would be so thankful to a woman selflessly helping me achieve the dream of having a child of my own.

  • Jennifer

    Katie,

    Why does someone have to go through the process in order to express concerns about surrogacy? As women (and men too), we ought to be able to weigh into these important conversations. I have interviewed several surrogates who don’t think this was a “blessing” and I’ve spoken with people born out of such contracts – who aren’t keen on the practice. I’m curious if you didn’t do this for the money, were you paid, or did you do this for free?

    • katiefroman

      I’m not saying someone has to have gone through this to have concerns. Most people with concerns have not but to make judgements based on random things is not okay to me. For those surrogates that don’t feel like it was a blessing; I feel bad for them. I don’t know what their situation was or if they maybe just weren’t ready to do something like this. For me it was the greatest experience of my life. I have done it twice. The first time was through the agency run by Tonya Collins and I was paid for that and then the second time it was done independently and my payment was an amazing experience and getting to see two sweet people have a child, I was not monetarily compensated as such.

  • Jenn T

    I feel lucky that my IPs and I were not victimized by Tonya. We met through them in 2006, delivering triplets in 2007. I knew, though, things weren’t run professionally or “quite right”, but we escaped unscathed. My sentiments echo the OP … the real tragedy is the dreams lost, not the money. The money is a means to the dream. The dream is the real loss.

    And, I do believe everyone can have an opinion on anything. To make judgement when you haven’t experienced something, though, isn’t a fair assessment. Surrogates do chose to embark on this adventure. We know what we sign up for. We cannot (or should not be allowed to proceed) in times of duress (financial, physical, etc).

    I am in no way poor. I pay my bills and provide for my family just fine. It’s a sad misconception that surrogates are preyed upon and offered huge sums of money to be a surrogate. Yes, sometimes surrogates do sign up just for the money. It’s say a good 98% do it for the love and passion of helping others and being so blessed to be part of someone elses’ dream coming true.

    To the OP, well stated and said. My heart hurts, too, for the families that will never be and for the children that Tonya herself is abandoning due to her selfishness. And, more unfortunate, she’ll probably never comprehend or accept the true impact of her choices.

    • katiefroman

      I just wanted to say thank you, from one surrogate to another,for what you selflessly do.

  • OutragedInNY

    Is it true that Collins is getting gastric bypass surgery before she goes to jail and who is paying for that?

    • Andy

      I have also heard that she will not be surrendering herself into custody
      for six weeks so as to possibly give her sufficient time for her to undergo gastric
      bypass surgery. It is also possible that she would have had at least six weeks to surrender, irrespective of the surgery. I would hope the United States Attorney General’s
      office has looked into the source of funds to ensure that she is not
      using ill-gotten monies to pay for this procedure.

  • beth mardones

    Kathy, I find your comment completely out of line and an inappropriate response to Andy’s heartfelt post.
    First of all our son was NOT purchased and neither are any children brought into this world by the loving care of a surrogate Mother. Second, our surrogate, dear friend and Godmother to our son is NOT poor, infact, she is richer in more asspects of her life than anyone I know.
    I have had the pleasure of meeting many surrogates through the years and they were all financially stable, smart, loving and caring women that want nothing more than to help women like myself, that can not carry a baby, be able to have a child of their own.
    Its a shame that people like you chose to attack the industry and the professionals that played such an important role in bringing our son in this world. Our doctor, nurses, attorney and social worker are all in this field of work to help others that need their help. I will be forever thankful to them.
    I dont feel at all that this is an industry “driven by money” as Kathy said. Rather, it is an industry driven by mostly caring people playing their important role to help couples like me and my husband have a family. Unfortunately, there are bad people like Tonya Collins that will take advantage of vulnerable people.

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