Surrogacy and Baby-Selling in a Globalizing World: What’s Next?

VIDEO: Black Market Baby-Selling

“A well-known surrogacy attorney in California used her networks and well-financed practice to dupe families into paying over $100,000 for a child based on a fraudulent scenario. Basically, those looking to secure a child were told that a surrogacy arrangement had fallen apart—the intended parents backing out of the arrangement. This was false and a story constructed for fraud.” Read more.

The FBI’s press release begins with the title “Baby-Selling Ring Busted.” When it comes to press relations, word choice is everything and there is nothing more loaded than “Baby-Selling!” Sadly child sales are not a particularly new phenomenon, but the mode of carrying out the crime is intriguing. The scenario includes the use of fertility technology in the Ukraine intersecting with unsuspecting American families with the resources to pay over $100,000 for a child. For me, someone interested in adoption ethics and emerging global surrogacy schemes, this particular case struck me as just one more manifestation of what is possible when people will spend unimaginable sums to secure a healthy infant.

The story goes something like this. A well-known surrogacy attorney in California used her networks and well-financed practice to dupe families into paying over $100,000 for a child based on a fraudulent scenario. Basically, those looking to secure a child were told that a surrogacy arrangement had fallen apart—the intended parents backing out of the arrangement. This was false and a story constructed for fraud. The unsuspecting customers (prospective parents) were given the opportunity to secure the unborn child without adoption procedures. The attorney then worked with surrogate mothers women who were impregnated with a donated egg and sperm and thus not a biological child of the surrogate mother. And yes, it appears that the egg and sperm donors were unaware of the child’s birth and entanglement into a child sales scheme.

The global intersection is related to the fact that the fertility procedure was carried out in the Ukraine. Interestingly these surrogate mothers were U.S. Citizens and not eastern European/Ukrainian women. Apparently, U.S. surrogate mothers were flown into the Ukraine for fertility treatments and then quietly returned to the US as surrogate mothers. It all unfolded from there and California was a likely state given its friendliness to surrogacy arrangements.

For those of us watching the fertility technology and surrogacy industry boom, this is not really all that surprising. There are really too many unusual scenarios emerging as child adoption becomes more and more difficult. Declines in adoption possibilities have resulted in a number of problems, including child trafficking. What is surprising is that a well-trained attorney would risk it all for such a child sales scheme.

Fundamentally, advances in fertility technology are intersecting with globalization in a way that is forcing us all to ponder bioethics and call the quandaries and legal violations like we see them. In this case, the FBI is to be commended for bluntly calling this scenario a “baby-selling ring.”  While we await the sentencing of this attorney and several others involved, we can only wonder what’s next as the story of globalization and surrogacy continues to unfold in the context of limited child adoption opportunities. 

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  • feministadoptee

    I may be getting the wrong idea, but it seems that you are implying that surrogacy is a practice that is unethical and should be stopped, but that it has become more abundant due to the lack of adoption possibilities, which are ok. 

    Domestic infant adoption is NOT a win-win, “solution” for childless couples OR for mothers who give up their children. In papers I’ve written for school, I’ve read studies showing that the majority of women giving up their children for adoption do NOT feel they voluntarily did so (citing things such as finances, family members, partners, etc. as coercive factors in the “decision”). 

    As an adoptee I’m expected to express nothing but gratitude for my parents having “saved” me from a worse fate (being raised by what society deems an unfit mother”. First mothers are told they did the “right thing” and gave their children a “better life”. 

    There are a lot of problems with infant adoption. It is not a better alternative to surrogacy. BOTH practices are overly harmful to women and children. I’m pro-choice, very much so although I was raised anti-choice. I’ve come to realise that supporting adoption the way it is practised today (as well as surrogacy, gamete donation, and other forms of obtaining children) is anti-choice. I’ve realised that reproductive rights are more than black and white abortion vs. childbirth. 

    If I read you wrong I apologise, but amongst feminist communities I see a lack of attention given to adoptee rights and first mother rights, adoption is rarely looked at as the exploitative, anti-feminist thing it is.

  • elka

    “Feministadoptee,” I haven’t examined the data.  However, as I understand, prospective, adoptive parents especially want to adopt young babies with blond hair and blue eyes.  I don’t know whether this is true.  Perhaps if prospective, adoptive parents would be less picky about these children, there would be more adoptions?  Instead, we hear on the news that these parents can ‘design’ children according to the genetic parents’ attributes, i.e. athleticism, intelligence, etc.  What do these stipulations tell the child, other than that the ‘parents’ who designed these children have conditional love? 


    It would also seem that since the foster care system is over-burdened, and there are so many older children who desperately want a family, that this would be the route to go.  Instead, the argument is that ‘you don’t know what you’re getting,’ as though foster children are nothing more than a sack of potatoes from the store.  The local news here presents older foster children, who just want a family to call their own. 

  • feministadoptee

    You’re right that white infants are more popular. In a paper I wrote I remember a statistic that was (around) 40 adoptive parents are available for every white infant that becomes available for adoption. Due to legal abortion and less stigma on single parenting, the number of infants available for adoption has gone down. I believe that is a good thing. The adoptions that still occur tend to be due to stigma against abortion, or a society that decides what type of woman is “fit” to mother. Mine was not “fit” because of finances, so she was forced to give me to someone wealthier as no one would help her. 


    White infants are very marketable. There is high demand. Crisis Pregnancy Centers exist for more than one reason…obviously they are there to dissuade women from having abortions by using horrible techniques. They are also there to procure good babies for adoption agencies. They often work with adoption agencies, and in my personal undercover visits to local CPC’s have experienced the pushing of adoption as an alternative to abortion, with emphasis on it being the “right and moral” choice and little focus on helping a poor person raise a child. They use tactics to make you feel you are unfit to parent, and that there are families out there who could give my child everything they needed, that I couldn’t. 


    I’ve met my mom, and have become part of a growing group of people online who are speaking out against the adoption industry. It is currently an anti-woman industry that focuses on finding babies for parents rather than parents for babies. 


    More infant adoptions is not the answer. And yes there are foster children waiting for parents who really really need them. But (I think there was an RH article on this) many who adopt want to be able to “mold” their children and feel they need infants for that. In my family, they are religious and I think that had something to do with it.  

  • elburto

    What you mean is that the American adoption system is wrong. However, America is not the whole world, and before railing against adoption on the whole, you might wish to consider that.

  • feministadoptee

    You obviously haven’t done any research then. If you know any country with a perfectly ethical adoption system please, enlighten me.

    This is only one instance I know off the top of my head. Do some research, it isn’t just the united states. Many adoption bloggers I know are from all over the globe. What’s more, many countries are exploited for babies by wealthier couples from other countries. I posted a few articles about this on my blog. You also shouldn’t assume everyone is American commenting here, even me. My experience I wrote about mirrors many I have read from non usians. It isn’t limited.