More fraud and scandal in the California fertility industry

Posted by Marcy Darnovsky September 21, 2009
Biopolitical Times
PBS's award-winning national newsmagazine NOW takes an in-depth look this week at yet another scandal in the California fertility industry. (See also: OctoMom. As a starting point.)

In March, a Modesto-based surrogacy broker called SurroGenesis USA abruptly closed its doors. Reports in the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times suggest that its owner embezzled about $2 million from surrogates, some of them mid-pregnancy, and from clients, some of whom had handed over their life's savings in pursuit of a genetically related child. A class action lawsuit [PDF], posted on NOW's website, has been filed against SurroGenesis and its escrow company, which was advertised as an independent entity but which in fact was controlled by the same person that ran the surrogacy agency.

NOW's account, based on the kind of investigative reporting that's far too rare in today's impoverished media world, includes interviews with a surrogate left pregnant with no payments and no insurance coverage for her prenatal care or delivery, a couple whose money disappeared, and Debora Spar, Barnard College president and author of The Baby Business: How Money, Science, and Politics Drive the Commerce of Conception.

The SurroGenesis story comes on the heels of news reports about an older fertility scandal, also in California, also uncovered in part thanks to investigative reporting. Back in 1995, the Orange County Register reported that doctors at a world-renowned fertility clinic at UC Irvine had been stealing eggs and embryos for years. Two of them fled the United States to evade prosecution, and have never been tried.

The University of California has so far paid more than $24 million for 137 separate incidents in which the UC Irvine clinic misappropriated eggs or embryos. According to a Los Angeles Times story about a new partial settlement of the case, "The revelation sparked international news coverage, investigations and state hearings and tainted the university, which whistle-blowers said had ignored early warnings and tried to cover up problems."

What about all the "early warnings" that have come and gone since then? Until we confront the gross inadequacy of fertility industry regulation in the U.S., we can expect scandal, fraud, and other misconduct to continue.