While this story was met with international shock and panic, it offered a boldfaced warning to all intended parents living in the United States to think twice before pursuing surrogacy in another country as an effort to lower costs of the process.
Haseeb and Christy Amireh of San Jose, California, have been staying in hotels in the state of Tabasco, unable to leave Mexico with their baby boy born via surrogacy on April 16. They waited a total of three weeks for their baby’s birth certificate so that he could be issued a passport.
This week, they were able to return home after finally receiving all the child’s documents.
As this news story lit up the headlines last week, while the couple was still in Mexico, I was asked by CBS News for my professional opinion since my legal practice specializes in third-party reproductive law. When asked if I was surprised by what was happening to the Amireh family, I candidly told them I was not.
I was quoted, saying, “Mexico does not have the systems in place like it does in the U.S. If they say their law is a law, it may or may not be the law. Bribery is not uncommon in that country. Look at the cartels.”
Here in the United States, my practice, The Surrogacy Law Center, is based in Southern California. When an intended parent(s) work with an experienced attorney in third-party reproductive law, a Judgment of Parentage is put into place that stipulates how the names should appear on the child’s birth certificate. This Judgment goes into effect the moment that the child is born.
While other countries may offer lower costs for surrogacy, it is a slippery slope to climb. One has to ask, “What assurances are in place that the name(s) of the intended parents will be on the birth certificate and the newborn can go home with its parents to their native country?”
When dealing outside the U.S., it’s only natural that uncertainties such as what the Amireh family experienced loom over the process.
A few days ago, CBS news reported that the couple had been partnered with a local lawyer. Additionally, they contacted the U.S. State Department for help.
U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell of California told the CBS affiliate station, KPIX-TV, “From what we learned, the governor in that state has put a moratorium on all birth certificates for surrogate families … I think this just highlights why it’s really important to understand the laws of any country that you’re traveling to make a healthcare decision.”
So how did this all happen and why did the couple end up in Mexico?
Like so many couples, Haseeb and Christy struggled with infertility and knew that surrogacy could help them build their family. At the time, they understood it was both legal and more financially attractive in Tabasco. The area overflows with surrogacy agencies.
CBS reported, “The couple was with the surrogate during the birth, but their magical experience quickly turned into desperation.”
Christy told CBS, “It seemed like time just kept passing and the next day and the next day and next day and no birth certificate, and we started panicking.”
And her instincts were right.
Her husband is incredibly concerned for other individuals and couples who are considering surrogacy in this area.
“There are still agencies taking … intended parents, like us, so we’d like to get the word out,” he shared.
For weeks, their lives were put on an official “hold” and there was so much uncertainty as to when they could come home with their newborn. Flying back to California on Mother’s Day was a celebratory moment for everyone involved, as well as those following their story.
I am so happy this is behind them now and they are home safely.Read More
Following a lengthy legal battle, a Pennsylvania judge delivered his ruling for Sherri Shepherd and Lamar Sally. Shepherd is now the legal mother of her 8-month old baby which was carried via surrogate.
Shepherd was not present at the hearing, but we all know that this was not the news she wanted to hear.
During their surrogate’s pregnancy, Shepherd separated from and divorced her husband, Sally. At that time, she walked away from the surrogate, the baby, and Sally claiming that the third-party reproduction arrangement was nothing more than a ruse from Sally for child support.
It was quite a statement, but it didn’t hold up in court. Shepherd was a part of this surrogacy process from the very beginning, and it wasn’t until after the embryo transfer and the progression of the resulting pregnancy that she had a change of heart.
Shepherd and Sally were married for a total of three years.
For the surrogacy, Sally’s sperm and an egg donor were used. The surrogate, Jessica Bartholomew, came out publicly following the birth. She was also named on the baby’s birth certificate as the mother, something no surrogate should have to ever bear.
According to Kirthana Ramisetti of the New York Daily News, “Yet despite not having a biological connection to the child, it seems that Shepherd’s excitement about his impending arrival is what helped convince the judge to name her as co-parent.”
Craig Bluestein, the child’s legal representative told reporters, “There was some additional evidence put on the record involving some video clips involving Ms. Shepherd.”
The clips, it appears, conveyed her joy and excitement regarding how she and her former husband would be having a baby with the help of a surrogate.
Bluestein told People Magazine reporters Emily Strohm and Diane Herbst that he thought this was the first national case in where an intended parent wanted to “opt out of the contract” during the pregnancy.
He went on to say, “This is very important because gestational carriers need to know that, if they are intending other people to be parents, that the carrier’s name won’t be on the birth certificate as mother and carry with it all the responsibilities of being a mother, including child support for a child you never intended to parent.”
Now, what does this ruling mean for Shepherd and what can she expect to face?
For starters, she will be legally obligated to pay alimony and child support.
Tiffany Palmer, Sally’s attorney, told People Magazine, “Now that Sherri’s name is on the birth certificate, it is possible she may have to reimburse the state of California for the health insurance and WIC benefits, to cover the cost of formula.” She continued, “The ultimate outcome is that this baby has two legal parents, and the parents are Lamar Sally and Sherri Shepherd. She has to be responsible for this child that she conceived and created.”
Palmer also confirmed that her law firm will be seeking the reimbursement of legal fees. No exact price tag was given but it’s estimated to be in the tens of thousands of dollars.
When this case started, I had a legal suspicion the judge would rule in the favor of Sally and the baby. It would be very difficult to prove that Shepherd was coerced into signing the third-party reproduction legal contract.
What also needs to be pointed out is the distress that Bartholomew endured. Not only was she named on the birth certificate, but the State of California state issued a child support action.
Some legal analysts are predicting a possible lawsuit between Bartholomew and Shepherd.
Thankfully, the judge’s ruling ensures the financial stability of this child and the surrogate finally removed from the birth certificate as the child’s mother.
While fertility medicine continues to evolve, intended parents must be safeguarded in terms of a clinic identifying when donors are not up to par. Part of this protocol should only allow donors that pass an inclusive medical, psychological and background screening.
The case of Angela Collins and Elizabeth Hanson of Ontario, Canada, is unsettling. Why? Because they are alleging the sperm bank, Xytez Corporation located in Atlanta, misrepresented their donor on three counts: a criminal past, psychological disorder, and altering his photo to make him look more handsome.
The lawsuit was filed in Fulton County Superior Court.
David Markiewicz of the Atlanta Journal Constitution writes, “The couple says they understood that the company thoroughly vetted potential sperm donors, screening them for their educational backgrounds and health history, among other things, and only selected the top prospects. Collins and Hanson, according to the suit, were told that their then-anonymous donor had an IQ of 160, a bachelor of science degree in neuroscience and a master’s degree in artificial intelligence, and that he was working on his PhD in neuroscience engineering,” Markiewicz continues, “He also was described as an eloquent speaker, mature beyond his years, and healthy.”
The million dollar question is where was the fact-checking on his education? That’s fairly simple to do and most egg donors have to prove they have the degrees they say they have so why not for this sperm donor?
This raises another question.
What about the other donors they have listed? If they didn’t fact-check this man’s education, what does that say for the rest of their database?
Following an embryo transfer, Collins gave birth to their son in 2007.
Collins and Hanson never intentionally looked for their donor’s full name. He was always listed as “Donor 9623.” They discovered his full name was James Christian Aggeles in 2014 when emails from the sperm bank had his name listed.
From there, independent research on Aggeles began.
The reporter wrote, “Collins and Hanson and other families who had used Aggeles as a donor and who received the same information subsequently discovered through their own research that he is, according to the suit, schizophrenic, a college drop-out, and had been arrested for burglary, and that his pictures had been doctored to remove a large mole from his cheek.”
In my area of legal framework, most egg donors go through a psychological screening. Did this donor? A trained psychologist may have been able to tell that this donor suffered from a congenital mental illness and rejected him before he donated at all. And, once again, are the rest of this sperm bank’s donors undergoing a psychological evaluation?
According the reporter, Xytex issues a statement reading that it, “absolutely denies any assertion that it failed to comply with the highest standards for testing,” and tries a legal interception by stating that it, “is reviewing and investigating the allegations asserted.”
The company goes on to say that it tests donors before collection. It screens for genetic and infectious diseases.
While Aggeles was charged for burglary in 2005, a spokesperson for the District Attorney’s office in Cobb County said he was discharged in 2014 under the First Offender Act.
Aggeles could not be reached for comment.
Wendy Kramer, director of the Donor Sibling Registry, told the reporter that stories such as this are not uncommon.
She points out, “There is currently no oversight and little to no regulation in the sperm banking industry. Donors can say whatever they like about their academics, medical history and background.”
And it’s not unusual for a donor to have fathered, “dozens of children.”
As for egg donors, they don’t create 55 children plus, but they are held to a higher screening standard than their male counterparts. Yes, it’s more consuming and expensive, but if those two policies were in place, this case wouldn’t exist.
It’s time for a change.Read More
The natural progression after they were married was to start building a family. In May 2014, the wives agreed upon using a sperm donor and that Kami would carry the baby.
Their daughter, Lucy, was born this past February.
The couple is now in a legal snafu, and the ACLU of Utah is stepping in to help. Recently, the couple launched a lawsuit against the Utah Department of Health arguing that Angie should be permitted on the baby’s birth certificate.
Annie Cutler of Fox 13 Now reports, “Right now in the eyes of the law I’m not her parent,” Angie Roe said. “We just want to be treated the same under the law as opposite sex couples are.”
According to Cutler, Angie and Kami Roe want to be acknowledged under the state’s assisted reproduction statutes. In doing so, there is no reason for Angie to be forced into a stepparent adoption process for legal guardianship which could take up to a couple months.
Leah Farrell, attorney with the ACLU of Utah told the media, “A couple of months of waiting is not nothing. The security or the lack of security that are in those months is a real thing but beyond that there’s just the principle of equality that they are being treated differently just because of the gender of one of the people in the couple and that’s not right.”
There are some who claim to support equality, but feel that this process really is the road toward legal due diligence.
This group is voicing that Angie is being viewed by the law as a stepparent. For heterosexual couples, they say, a stepparent must go through the adoption process to become a legal guardian. The argument from this corner says it sounds “equal” since a child cannot possibly have two mothers, so the adoption process is more than fair since heterosexual couples who marry into an established family go through the same procedure.
This argument doesn’t sit well with me because the Angie and Roe were legally married at the time of conception.
The ACLU fires away in their court papers indicating, “A same-sex spouse and a different-sex spouse whose wife conceives through donor insemination are similarly situated in all relevant aspects.” They continue, “The purpose of the statutes is to immediately establish parentage for a spouse who has consented to bringing a child into the world, whether or not that spouse shares a genetic relationship with the child.”
On the other side of the courtroom, the Utah Department of Health didn’t speak to the media but did release the following statement:
“While we have not had the opportunity to review today’s filing, we have been working for several months with both the ACLU and the plaintiffs in an attempt to reach a solution. Our hope is to resolve the issue at hand in a manner that serves the best interest of all parties.”
While other lawsuits have been heard in the courtroom referring to same-sex couples and parentage rights through adoption, this case is a trailblazer because it relates to assisted reproduction statues in the state of Utah.
Jennifer Dobner of The Salt Lake Union Tribune reports the court papers filed say, “Under Utah laws that govern assisted reproduction, however, only the husband of a woman who conceives through the use of donated sperm is automatically recognized as a child’s parent.”
The stepparent adoption that Angie Roe is being asked to do requires filing a petition for adoption, background check, a hearing for the judge’s ruling, and, of course, financial costs.
Angie Roe adds in her ACLU statement, “All we are asking is to be treated the way that other married couples are already treated under state law.”
With the changing climate in building families with third-party reproduction, state laws have to be more progressive and not so prohibitive for same-sex couples.Read More
Raunigk, a sixty-five year old school teacher, had her 13th baby when she was fifty-five and is now entering her third trimester of pregnancy with quadruplets.
According to USA Today’s reporter, Arden Dier, “Raunigk plans to add four more bundles of joy to her already large family. Raunigk underwent numerous attempts at artificial insemination over 18 months using donor eggs and sperm after her youngest daughter, Leila, asked for a baby brother or sister.” The media report continues, “While a pregnancy was planned, Raunigk says it was ‘a shock for me’ when doctors found she was carrying quadruplets.”
This type of medical intervention should not be condoned. In so many ways, this situation truly parallels the American Octomom case.
I say this because there are parental, medical and sociological responsibilities and ramifications here.
As of yet, it has not been revealed whether or not Raunigk underwent any form of psychological counseling with a trained therapist. This would be not only recommended, but vital before proceeding with fertility treatments.
We have to scrutinize why a fertility doctor would allow a woman at her age to be pregnant with quadruplets. It’s not only a dangerous situation for this senior, but may also put these babies at risk, too.
Raunigk told reporters, “I always find it very aggravating that one has to fulfill certain clichés.” She goes on to say, “I’m not actually afraid … I simply assume I’ll remain healthy and fit.”
Her gynecologist has told the media that while Raunigk is doing well to date, there is a risk of premature births.
Let me chime in here by saying that the most recent set of quadruplets in the news, the “Gardner Quadruplets” , is a completely different scenario. Two embryos were split in two to create sets of identical twins. That should be the only time someone is pregnant with quads from a fertility treatment. Above all, the mother, Ashley Gardner was in her twenties at the time of her pregnancy and the couple struggled several years with infertility.
All media reports concur that Raunigk, already a grandmother of 7 children, has children between the ages of 9 to 44.
According to Fox2Now News, despite the medical analysis backlash, Raunigk is telling naysayers, “They can see it how they want to, and I’ll see it the way I think is right.”
And she is also quoted saying, “Children keep me young.”
Really, is that so?
Having children in a woman’s twenties and thirties is physically difficult and takes its toll on the body even more so if one is in their forties and fifties.
It is mind boggling to fathom a grandmother in her sixties will be enduring pregnancy, delivery, rearing four newborns, and chasing around toddlers.
Medical professionals are agreeing that Raunigk will be unable to give birth naturally and will ultimately result in a C-section.
The aftercare, however, is another valid concern.
According to the BBC, reporter Michelle Roberts, spoke with Dr. Sue Avery, a fertility expert with Birmingham Women’s Fertility Centre and also a member of the British Fertility Society.
Avery shares in the United Kingdom that a small number of clinics offer IVF treatments to women more than 50 years of age.
Roberts reports Avery saying, “We have to consider the welfare of the child when making a decision,” and ends her statement by adding, “…it is up to individual clinics to decide if a woman, who at the age of 65 might reasonably expect to live for another 20 years or so, should be eligible for treatment.”
For the welfare of these babies, let’s all hope that future plans will be in place so these children receive the best medical, emotional and educational care possible.
To counter last week’s post about gay men being denied parental rights, here’s a story from the opposite end of the spectrum.
This week the Labour Court in Durban, South Africa ruled that gay men who become fathers through surrogacy are eligible for maternity leave when the baby is born.
Let’s revise that by saying they are “entitled” to it.
This is a trailblazing judgment.
In Times Live, writers Ernest Mabuza and Nomahlubi Jordaan report, “The court ordered the applicant’s employer, the State Information Technology Agency, to pay him for the two months’ unpaid leave he took to care for his newborn baby.” It continues, “The ruling, which has been welcomed by activist groups, would apply to heterosexual men as well.”
Irvin Lawrence, who represented the applicant, said this ruling also transcends to heterosexual fathers who declare themselves as the primary caregiver to their newborn.
The reason why Lawrence was brought into this court battle was that the petitioner’s employer, State Information Technology Agency, refused to pay their staff member when he took two months off to care for his baby.
Around the globe, gay rights activists cheered this case on finding the actions of the employer to be unconscionable, knowing it was time for a change.
The reporters wrote, “The father, whose identity cannot be revealed to protect the privacy of the child, challenged his employer’s refusal to grant him four months’ paid maternity leave on the grounds that he was not the child’s biological mother.” They added, “The man married his partner in a civil union in 2010 and a year later the couple entered into an agreement with a woman to carry a baby for them.”
For the applicant, he conveyed to the court that he and his spouse agreed that he would undertake the role as the primary caregiver for their infant following the birth.
Lawrence told reporters that the judge’s ruling may spur an amendment to the Basic Conditions of Employment Act. In a new era of parenthood, descriptions and definitions must be expanded to include every facet of parenthood in the 21st century.
In this particular case, the surrogacy agreement between the couple and the woman was a court order. The surrogate relinquished her parental rights, and the gay couple finalized their parentage order.
The petitioner, preparing for the birth of his baby, requested “paid” maternity leave for a total of four months.
“The State Information Technology Agency refused on the grounds that its policies and the Basic Conditions of Employment Act made provision for maternity leave only for female employees and were silent on leave for people who became parents through surrogacy,” the reporters wrote.
The employer indicated the employee could be offered what was called a leave for “family responsibility” or “special unpaid leave.”
As time pushed on, the employer then offered a total of two months of paid adoption leave. The other two months the employee would choose to take off would be unpaid.
“The father said these terms constituted discrimination against gay men. The agency denied its policy was discriminatory and said maternity leave was due to, and a right of, only female employees,” the article highlighted.
But Judge David Gush thought otherwise.
Gush’s ruling stated the following: “Given these circumstances there is no reason why an employee in the position of the applicant should not be entitled to maternity leave and, equally, no reason why such maternity leave should not be for the same duration as the maternity leave to which a natural mother is entitled.”
The authors also wrote that the judge ordered the State Information Technology Agency to recognize civil unions and also forbid the company to discriminate against those who became parents through surrogacy.
According to Johan Meyer, a health manager at Out, he told the media, “This is a breakthrough for future cases and for LGBT rights. It means that they can enjoy equal rights.”
Hanna and Riggs were married in Washington D.C., where same-sex marriage is legal and returned home to Dallas to celebrate their wedding with family and friends.
If the intended fathers’ names sound familiar to you, it is because this isn’t the first time that they have had to fight for their parental rights and the right to have a family. They were recently involved in a heated legal battle to co-adopt their biological twin sons who were born in April 2014. Their first attempt was denied by the judge, and after an appeal, they succeeded with a new judge who gave them the parental rights they justly deserved.
Texas has laws which deny same-sex couples the right to marry as well as denying the validity of the union if the marriage took place elsewhere.
Tyler Curry, a writer for The Advocate, explained in his article that following the ruling of their co-adoption, the couple wanted to move forward with another surrogacy. Rather than using the agency that they used for their previous surrogacy process, they chose an agency which was closer to their residence in Plano.
Hanna told The Advocate, “The phone conversation began with Hanna speaking to the clinic’s office manager.” After listening to the protocol which included expenses, Hanna was then transferred to the nurse coordinator.
A friendly conversation suddenly became cold.
He told the reporter, “I explained that we were looking for a second surrogacy and we had a conversation for several minutes. Then she asked why we were seeking a gestational carrier and I told her that we are a same-sex couple. I was immediately put on hold for about three to five minutes. Then the woman from the front desk finally picked up the line and began to tell me that they only service married couples.”
The receptionist apologized to Hanna, adding that it wasn’t her view, but that of the doctors in the clinic.
Hanna’s resolve willed him to make another phone call to another regarded Texas clinic known for surrogacy named, IVFMD.
Hanna told The Advocate, “I asked a handful of questions to the person who answered the phone and she said that I needed to speak with the office manager.” He continued, “Then I asked her if they service same-sex couples and she said no. She added that they have served same-sex female couples, but not male couples.”
Is something wrong with this picture? Gay women get the green light whereas gay men get a red one?
The Advocate decided to do some of their own research in this matter. They called the Dallas/Fort Worth Fertility Associates and spoke with the same office manager that Hanna did. She confirmed that they did not provide surrogacy for gay couples.
When pressed for clarification as to whether the clinic provides the service of implanting an embryo into a surrogate, Curry wrote, the manager curtly said, “No,” adding that while the clinic does offer this service, it is only available to couples who are legally married in the state of Texas.
Then The Advocate asked if same-sex marriage were legal in Texas, would they take on surrogacy cases? The red tape answer was the clinic would need to perform its own review if that were to happen.
Next, The Advocate contacted IVFMD. On the other end of the line was Tina Vu, an IVF coordinator.
Curry reported that Vu, “…would not tell The Advocate why the clinic’s policy did not allow services for same-sex male couples or single males. She just said that these policies were decided on when the practice first opened, and although it may not reflect what she believes, it is current policy.”
However, according to Curry, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals is to arrive at a decision which contests same-sex marriage bans in the sates of Mississippi, Texas and Louisiana.
As for Hanna and Riggs, Curry says their choices for their next surrogacy journey will be locating a practice which approves working with gay couples.Read More