Betraying the Community: My Response to the Theresa Erickson Scandal
Posted Aug 10 2011 9:54pm
What do you do when you learn that someone you respected had violated your trust, had betrayed not only you, but your entire community?
. . .
I had only a few minutes to do a quick scan of Facebook this afternoon at work, as we are in the thick of staff training for the month of August. A post from women’s health and sexual empowerment writer Pamela Madsen caught my eye: Made To Order Babies: When Reproductive Medicine Breaks the Law . Intrigued, I clicked over and skimmed her post.
Baby selling ring.
These words flashed out from the screen like beacons. And then:
Yesterday, it became official as Theresa Erickson plead guilty to a conspiracy charge in what federal prosecutors described, truly as a baby-selling ring. Even though the whispering had been quite loud lately about what was about to hit the news – nothing could prepare the reproductive community for this news – and I can’t imagine the after shocks still to come.
Erickson’s name may be familiar to you on this blog.
I was a guest on her radio show back in April of this year.
. . .
For the first time in my life, I actually understand completely the meaning of the word “duped.”
Because she not only duped me, but the entire family building community.
. . .
, as well as many, many more national and international news outlets. They flesh out the details: Erickson didn’t act alone and colluded with two others to arrange for babies created from donor eggs and sperm, carried by surrogates in the Ukraine, to be sold to wanting parents to the tune of as much as $100,000 to $150,000 each.
Twelve babies were placed through these fraudulent arrangements. These parents will keep their children and have been cleared of any wrongdoing. But the damage done to the stories of how these families were created and came together is irreparable.
Erickson, on the other hand, faces up to five years in federal prison, as well as a $250,000 federal fine and $120,000 total in restitution to these dozen defrauded families.
In the end, Erickson only made $70,000 from six years’ worth of her shady efforts.
Apparently greed, temptation, and unethical decision-making have a price… and it’s only $70,000.
. . .
It hurts me.
More importantly, her actions have hurt this entire community.
Theresa Erickson used her well-established personal brand and in-depth inside knowledge of third-party assisted reproductive law to circumvent those very laws for her own personal financial gain.
She betrayed our community’s trust.
As a community, we’ve made such great strides in the past year. Her actions have instead set us back. Once again, our community has been marred by an embarrassing and shocking story just ripe for tabloid picking in its sensational details. Her selfish actions have reinforced so many myths we sought to erase during this year’s National Infertility Awareness Week.
Once again, the public gets a glimpse of the infertility community’s dirty laundry, allowed to entertain those controversial assumptions that they always suspected were true anyway, I mean, can you even believe these details?!
“Infertile couples are desperate and will pay anything for a baby.”
“Donors and surrogates are just money-hungry baby factories.”
“The doctors, clinics, lawyers and agencies who facilitate third-party reproduction are also in it for the money, selling babies to the highest bidder.”
Erickson has dealt such a blow to the integrity of not just our community of infertility patients and waiting couples, but to the entire professional family building community at large. Her fraud has eroded at the good work that’s being done by so many leaders in this field, people who are genuinely invested in establishing, evaluating and preserving ethical approaches to and practices of family building in the 21st century.
Her unbelievable decisions and actions have left a deep scar on our work, a chasm we will have to approach and cross over from here on out.
. . .
I was so honored to be invited to her show in April, to share my experiences with POF and talk about my big PETA smackdown.
Now, I just feel embarrassed.
. . .
I know I’m not the only one who feels this way, as Erickson’s misdeeds have sent shockwaves throughout the family building community of professionals. I’m sure Pamela’s post, along with mine, with be just two posts in a sea of editorials in the coming days. Another blogger for whom I have immense respect has also posted her thoughts about having also been a guest on Theresa’s show; Melissa’s post is spoken eloquently and with even more fire. She touches more on the anger that should I dwell on this too long, might consume me.
But I will say this: for all the unethical behavior on Erickson’s part, it was the ethical integrity of an industry colleague who brought this whole mess to the FBI’s attention. There is some comfort in knowing that this whole scheme only came to light because someone respected the ethics to which they were professionally – and perhaps personally – bound.
Those same ethical standards that Erickson was quick to cast aside for a paltry seventy grand.
. . .
“This case serves as a reminder to people who are desperate to have a child that you must be cautious,” FBI Special Agent Darrell Foxworth told ABC News.
No fucking kidding, Agent Foxworth.
As if we’re not cautious enough about BPA and caffeine and tight briefs and soy and not missing our trigger shots and filling out every line of homestudy paperwork and figuring out who we even tell that we’re infertile in the first place.
My dear Agent Foxworth, if you’d have been trying to have a child for years and years and years and years… wouldn’t your desperation be warranted after a certain point?
Perhaps not the price paid, as these families have, but at least the sense of longing, of wanting?
Agent Foxworth, don’t judge us for wanting something that is otherwise unobtainable without third-party help. Our desire for children is a basic life force.
And don’t forget – Theresa Erickson is the unethical exception, not the norm.
. . .
I can honestly say I’ve never experienced anything like this in my entire life. I’m shocked, angry, hurt, and disgusted. I sigh heavily at the amount of damage control that this community must do now in the wake of her scandal.
But mostly, I’m just sad.
I’m sad that I have to be connected to her in any way. I feel dirty and used. I have a bad taste in my mouth. I nearly passed out (literally) as I read the news this afternoon at work.
I’ve removed the links from my Media page. I’m still on the fence about what to do with my existing posts; do I delete them entirely or just yank them from my blog and revert them back to drafts? Thankfully Erickson’s website and Voice America radio show pages now show 404 errors. Stupidly, I never downloaded my own mp3 of the show I was on, because I assumed, yanno, it’ll live on in the eternity of the internet.
I never expected the show’s host could potentially wind up in federal prison for selling babies on the black market.
. . .
According to other news stories on the whole affair, Erickson had this to say on her Facebook page yesterday (her profile appears to have disappeared too):
I have never taken advantage of parents, children, donors or surrogates who otherwise would remain vulnerable to the underbelly of this industry. Remember, any story can be spun and manipulated to make a story salacious. Yet know from the bottom of my heart that I have done the right things to protect some children from otherwise disastrous outcomes.
Here’s what I wish I could say to her face in response:
Theresa, you believe you may not have taken advantage of these individual players in your scheme, but you took advantage of your role as a trusted leader in the family building community to make a sad, quick buck.
You’ve taken advantage of anyone who ever supported you, ever stood up to bat for you and praised your good works, myself and hundreds of others included.
. . .
So we’ll have our commentary and our speculation about motives and just what the sweet holy hell she was thinking in the first place. We’ll have our PR cleanup work to do.
We’ll move on and maybe even forgive in time.
But our community will never forget this kind of betrayal.