Friday, April 30, 2010

Woman and Grandson working with a surrogate

'I'm in love with my grandson and we're having a baby'

Pearl Carter is positively glowing with joy. She has a handsome new boyfriend, is enjoying an active sex life after many years of celibacy and, amazingly, is preparing to become a mother again.

But the retired grandmother isn't carrying the baby herself. She and her young lover have spent a staggering $54,000 hiring a surrogate to help them with their dreams of having a child.

What makes Pearl's decision to become a mum again even more shocking is that her new boyfriend is her biological grandson, 26-year-old Phil Bailey.

Phil is the son of Pearl's daughter Lynette Bailey, and the pair is braving public horror and even prison by breaking one of the last taboos – incest.

However, the pair makes no apologies for their controversial plan to start their own family.

'I'm not interested in anyone else's opinion,' Pearl says. 'I am in love with Phil and he's in love with me. Soon I'll be holding my son or daughter in my arms and Phil will be the proud dad'.

Phil adds, 'I love Pearl with all my heart. I've always been attracted to older women and I think Pearl is gorgeous. Now I'm going to be a dad and I can't wait.

'Yes, we get laughed at and bullied when we go out and kiss in public but we don't care. You can't help who you fall for.'

Pearl was 18 when she fell pregnant with daughter Lynette. She was living with her Catholic parents in Indiana and they insisted she give the baby away, so as not to bring the family into disrepute.

They organised a private adoption and Pearl never again saw her baby girl.

Pearl went on to marry, but she never had any more children. Instead she searched for her lost daughter until finally giving up hope 15 years ago.

Finding each other

In 1983, Pearl's daughter Lynette had a baby of her own, who she named Phil. She raised him as a single mother.

'My mother told me she was adopted when I was 18, and at the same time she told me she'd been diagnosed with brain cancer,' Phil says. 'I was devastated.'

Phil nursed his mum for six months before she died. It was then he decided to track down his grandmother. It took three years before he found an address for Pearl and wrote to her.

'I was stunned to get his letter,' says Pearl, who was now single. 'My heart jumped that I'd be re-united with a grandson. I wrote back immediately and included my phone number.'

When Phil phoned Pearl, the pair admits they were both rather nervous. Pearl told Phil about being forced to give up Lynette for adoption, and Phil told Pearl about his mum dying of cancer.

'We both cried but kept talking for three hours,' she says. 'When he emailed me a photo, I thought what a handsome and sexy man he was before pinching myself – he was my grandson!'

Confused, Pearl talked to a friend, who told her about an article she'd read on Genetic Sexual Attraction (GSA), which occurs when close relatives meet as adults and are attracted to each other.

'I could now understand my feelings and realise they weren't wrong,' Pearl says.

In 2006, Phil met his grandmother for the first time.

'From the first moment that I saw him, I knew we would never have a grandmother-grandson relationship,' Pearl remembers happily. 'For the first time in years I felt sexually alive.'

Phil admits that he had the same feelings towards Pearl.

'I wanted to kiss her there and then,' he says. 'My feelings were overwhelming.'

The pair spent the first week shopping, bowling and eating out. During the second week, giggly on wine after a night out, Pearl decided she wasn't going to deny her feelings anymore.

Unexpected feelings

'I called Phil into my bedroom, sat him on the bed, and then I leant over and kissed him,' Pearl says.

'I expected rejection but instead he kissed me back.'

Pearl then explained to Phil what she'd discovered about GSA.

'I was thrilled and excited,' Phil says. 'I could be with Pearl and it was OK because she'd never raised me or been in my life.'

That night, grandmother and grandson became lovers.

'Making love to Pearl was a real eye-opener. It was love combined with all this sexual tension that had been building up,' Phil openly explains.

Phil, a carpenter, agreed to live with Pearl and get a job with a local building firm.

'Living with Phil as my life partner has been amazing. He cooks and cleans and we make love three times a week. We can't keep our hands off each other.'

Twelve months ago, Phil made the shocking admission that he wanted a child. Pearl told him she was desperate for a baby as well, but it was one wish that she couldn't fulfil as she'd already gone through menopause.

The determined pair then decided to use Pearl's retirement money to find a surrogate mother and buy a donor egg to inseminate with Phil's sperm. They placed an ad asking for an open-minded surrogate, and Roxanne Campbell applied. The three met up a few times and hit it off.
'Initially I was shocked,' says Roxanne on learning the couple were related. 'But they're a brilliant pair and I saw how much they loved each other. I know the baby will be loved too.'

The couple sees 30-year-old Roxanne once a month and accompany her for scans, with Pearl playing the part of a pal or the baby's grandmother.

'I am just so happy,' Pearl says.

'I am finally going to be a mum and not forced to give up my child. Phil's going to be a great dad. I never in a million years thought at 72 I'd be "pregnant" and in love with my grandson. I make no apologies and I believe God's given me a second chance.'

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Adoption Agency escapes punishment after breaking rules

Adoption agencies break rules, escape punishment

AJC investigation: Weak oversight on private adoption agencies ShareThisPrint E-mail .By Alan Judd

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

She was 24, a fair-skinned, curly haired brunette from California’s San Joaquin Valley. She quit school after the 11th grade but wanted to go back to become a teacher or maybe a corrections officer. She said she liked “shopping, swimming, going out.” Her favorite food: Mexican. Her favorite places: the mountains and the beach.

The Freemans started trying in late 2008 to adopt a child through Valley of Hope. After many twists and turns, they were unable to proceed with the agency and finally adopted a child late last year using another agency.

For Krista and Luis Arduz, she represented their best hope for a baby.

Early last year, the Kentucky couple agreed to adopt the California woman’s infant through a Georgia adoption agency. Like many modern private adoptions, this was to be a complex multi-state transaction, conducted mostly through e-mails and cellphones, Web sites and text messages — not to mention wire transfers involving thousands of dollars.

And the way it unraveled sheds light on the state’s weak oversight of the 336 private agencies that arrange adoptions and foster care and operate group homes in Georgia, an investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution shows.

Just three times since 2008, the Journal-Constitution found, has the state imposed penalties against agencies that exclusively handle adoptions: two fines and one license revocation.

The newspaper’s review of more than 1,500 reports of inspections and investigations found that regulators repeatedly forgave violations of rules fundamental to safe adoptions: failing to check parents’ criminal records, for instance, or not documenting safe environments in adoptive homes.

Several agencies received citations for failing to show that payments to birth mothers covered only legitimate medical or living expenses. At least one agency — Valley of Hope Adoption Inc. of Woodstock, with which the Arduzes worked — was cited for having money for a birth mother’s expenses deposited into its executive director’s personal bank account.

None of those violations resulted in penalties.

State law allows fines as high as $25,000. But officials say they prefer to persuade agencies to comply with the rules than impose harsh penalties.

“We try to work with as many agencies as possible so there are viable options for Georgia’s children,” said Keith Bostick, director of the Office of Residential Child Care, which regulates adoption and foster care agencies.

“It is a balancing act,” Bostick said. “Often it’s not black, it’s not white — it’s gray.”

Valley of Hope is one of many agencies that existed in the gray area.

The agency eluded punishment for almost two years, even though state officials knew it was violating adoption rules. But the state didn’t share information about the agency with the public until late 2009.

Erin Chaffee, Valley of Hope’s founder and executive director, declined repeated requests for an interview. In an e-mail to a reporter late Friday, she said, “Adoption is a highly personal and confidential business and for those reasons it is not appropriate for me to engage in a discussion with you.” In another e-mail Saturday, she added, “We have helped over 100 clients adopt successfully and only a handful of clients have had failed adoptions.”

The Arduzes knew nothing about Valley of Hope’s regulatory history when they made the first of several payments that were to total more than $31,000. Neither did Brea and Jonathan Freeman, a Nashville-area couple whose own attempt to adopt through Valley of Hope overlapped the Arduzes’.

In late 2008, the Freemans decided to expand their family of three biological children and one adopted child. They considered several adoption agencies before settling on one that had only recently gone into business: Valley of Hope.

“We found them on the Internet,” Brea Freeman said recently. “I could find nothing bad about them, at the time.”

Valley of Hope broke the rules even before it completed its first adoption.

Chaffee, a licensed social worker who had worked for another adoption agency, established Valley of Hope in January 2008 as a for-profit business. State law requires adoption agencies to operate as not-for-profit organizations to guard against the appearance of baby selling.

Chaffee accepted the agency’s first adoption application fee from prospective parents in June 2008 — two months before Valley of Hope received a state license allowing it to do so, records show. In her e-mail Saturday, Chaffee said regulators “had trouble understanding” that she was working with those parents through a separate consulting company.

As at other agencies, an adoption handled by Valley of Hope could be expensive — $40,000 or more — and lacking guarantees. Birth mothers may change their minds at any time, leaving adoptive parents with little to show for their financial and emotional investments.

But on Valley of Hope’s Web site, Chaffee reassures both prospective parents and birth mothers. She describes Valley of Hope as a Christian mission offering the “free gift” of “everlasting life.” All children, the Web site states, are “wonderfully made by the Creator.”

Elsewhere Chaffee takes a more secular tone:

“So many couples come to us after spending a lot of money on their adoption without success, or they tell us they have been waiting forever to adopt and nothing has panned out,” Chaffee writes. By working with birth mothers in “states that have favorable adoption laws,” she says, prospective parents could expect a “match” in four to six months — half as long as at many other agencies.

On the Web site, several clients praise Chaffee and her agency.

“We were so happy with the level of personal service and support we were given at Valley of Hope,” a couple identified as Paul and Miriam of New Jersey say. “Erin was always available to talk to us, and seemed almost as excited as we were about the whole process. We could not believe that she found us a match after TWO WEEKS!!”

Another couple, identified as Pamela and Jason from Canada, wrote to Chaffee: “When we contacted you, we had come close to losing the dream of becoming parents. Now the pain is almost forgotten.”

‘My baby’

Krista and Luis Arduz also dreamed of becoming parents once more.

But Krista, a physician’s assistant in a dermatology practice, was in her 40s, and her last pregnancy and delivery had been difficult. She feared she would not be able to conceive again. Adoption, she said recently, seemed the best alternative.

In early 2009, the Arduzes hired an adoption facilitator to help sort through the Internet’s hundreds of posted “situations” — pregnant women offering their babies for adoption. The couple settled on what seemed to be a good match: a baby due April 17 to a 24-year-old California woman offering her child for adoption through Valley of Hope.

Chaffee faxed the Arduzes a contract, which they signed Feb. 13, 2009, the same day they wired $12,500 to Valley of Hope for the adoption fee. A few hours later, Krista Arduz said, Chaffee wanted another $2,000 sent immediately for the birth mother’s expenses. It was Friday afternoon, too late to send the money from the Arduzes’ credit union. Chaffee wouldn’t wait, Krista said. So the Arduzes wired the money from a Western Union outlet.

The birth mother, by then seven months pregnant and living on food stamps and Medicaid, remained in her small, remote hometown. She was married and had two boys, a 3-year-old and a 10-month-old. Her husband, who was not the father of her sons or the unborn child, did not know she planned to give up the baby, she wrote in a birth-mother questionnaire that Valley of Hope shared with the Arduzes. The biological father, whom she knew only as “Joe,” wasn’t aware of her pregnancy.

The birth-mother form posed a question: “If you could, what would you tell the baby about yourself and your decision?”

She answered: “I love you and I think I did what was best for the future of child.”

The next question: “Why are you placing this child for adoption?”

Her response: “I am not in any way financially stable or in the position to bring a baby into this world to suffer because I can’t provide.”

Still, she wrote that although she would allow the adoptive parents into the delivery room, she wanted to hold the baby first and to spend time alone with the child. She said she would let the adoptive parents name the child, so long as they told her what they planned to call “my baby.”

From the start, Krista Arduz said, everything was complicated and confusing. The Arduzes had so many questions: When should they buy airline tickets to pick up the baby in California? How long should they expect to stay there? What kind of relationship might they have with the mother?

“No guidance,” Arduz said of Valley of Hope’s responses to their inquiries.

“It would be nothing to call them two or three times and never hear back from them,” she said. “We were very frustrated.”

Cautionary tale

In Nashville, Brea and Jonathan Freeman were frustrated, too. When they began working with Valley of Hope in late 2008, they had been impressed. Brea Freeman had imagined Chaffee as someone who could be a close friend if they lived in the same city. And Chaffee had called frequently with possible adoption matches, exuding what Freeman called “a sense of urgency.”

But, she said, Chaffee began asking whether the Freemans might exceed their self-imposed $20,000 cap on adoption expenses. After they said no, Brea Freeman said, they heard from Chaffee less often, a criticism made by others in complaints to state regulators. “If there was a chance you might be willing to spend money,” Freeman said, “she would call you back in 30 seconds.”

Freeman took copious notes of her conversations with Chaffee and saved dozens of e-mails. Her documentation, which she shared with a reporter, depicts an increasingly muddled and contentious adoption.

The Freemans thought they had been “matched” with a birth mother in Atlanta. Valley of Hope later told the couple the match had been only preliminary.

By early April, the Freemans were worried. The birth mother’s due date came and went. Chaffee was supposed to arrange a telephone conference call between the birth mother and the Freemans, but that fell through. Communication from Chaffee became less frequent.

“When you get matched with somebody, it’s like being pregnant and waiting to give birth,” Brea Freeman said. “To pull the rug out from under us, it was devastating.”

On April 5, Chaffee e-mailed the Freemans to say the birth mother was waffling. But she said she hoped to keep the adoption on track by acting “more like a friend” to her, and reminding her that by keeping the baby, she would forfeit the money for her expenses.

“She made comments like, ‘I have to do the plan,’ meaning the adoption plan, and then later said, ‘I really don’t want to give up my baby,’” Chaffee wrote in an e-mail to Freeman. “I explained to her in great detail about the benefits of an open adoption.”

Freeman felt uncomfortable with Chaffee’s strategy. The next day, she and her husband backed out of the adoption.

The woman kept her baby. After Freeman complained about the outcome, a Valley of Hope caseworker sent her an e-mail describing the woman as “not stable,” adding that her erratic nature was why the agency had not asked the couple to pay fees in advance.

By e-mail on Saturday, Chaffee said: “I have never pressured a birth parent to place a child.”

Freeman discussed the episode at length on her blog. She sees it as a cautionary tale.

“I couldn’t imagine,” she said, “looking my child in the eye one day and saying, ‘You know, the agency pressured your mom to give you up.’”

‘Everything was fine’

The Arduzes’ birth mother was due April 17. Krista Arduz booked a flight for April 15, reserved a room in the town’s new Holiday Inn Express, and waited for word about the woman’s latest visit with her doctor.

With five days to go, Luis Arduz e-mailed Chaffee: “I wanted to inquire if you have had contact ... after her doctor appointment.”

Chaffee replied from her BlackBerry: “Her mom told me everything was fine at the appt, but no details.”

That weekend, the Arduzes got a call from a California lawyer who was handling legal work on the adoption. He had just heard that the baby had arrived at least a week earlier — and the birth mother had backed out of the adoption.

The child was born, the lawyer told the Arduzes, before Chaffee purportedly spoke with the woman’s mother.

The news enraged the Arduzes. Why, they wondered, had Chaffee not told them about the birth? Did she even know about the baby? If so, why had she misled them about the birth mother’s appointment with the doctor?

Chaffee says that when birth mothers change their minds, “the adoptive parents are notified as soon as the agency has confirmation of the decision.”

Regardless, last April 13, a Monday, Krista Arduz sent Chaffee a seemingly innocuous e-mail: “Wondering if you talked with [the birth mother] to find out about her visit to the hospital this past week. We’re anxiously waiting to know how she’s doing and would appreciate any info you have (even if you haven’t spoken with her).”

Chaffee wrote back: “I spoke with her Tuesday and everything was good. ... Her doctor’s office said there was no new information since her last visit.”

On the telephone that evening, Luis Arduz confronted Chaffee about the mother’s decision. Chaffee, the Arduzes say, repeatedly said she didn’t know what she could have done differently.

Luis Arduz was incredulous.

“You,” he asked Chaffee, “are the last one to know?”

No evidence of fraud

Later in the month, Krista Arduz filed a complaint against Valley of Hope with Georgia regulators. Already, they were looking into a similar case that had been reported in March.

It wasn’t until July 7, though, that an inspector visited the adoption agency’s offices in Cherokee County.

Generally corroborating the Arduzes’ allegations, the inspector found numerous rules violations: a failure to document why money was wired to birth mothers, the depositing of mothers’ expense money into Chaffee’s bank account, a variable fee schedule that suggested different prices for different babies.

Other citations alleged that Valley of Hope had not adequately screened adoptive families. For instance, the agency didn’t check whether at least one prospective parent had a criminal record, didn’t document another’s mental health evaluation and could not show it had confirmed the character references for a third.

And, the inspector said, Valley of Hope still was operating illegally as a for-profit adoption agency. (It changed its corporate registration to non-profit in December 2009, records show.)

But the inspector recommended no punishment; she found no evidence of fraud, and concluded the agency had not intentionally broken rules.

Chaffee now denies violating the rules, although she never contested state citations.

By this February, officials determined Valley of Hope had neither corrected deficiencies nor submitted a plan to do so. “All of it added up to something that didn’t look right,” said Bostick, the chief state regulator.

On Feb. 15, the state revoked Valley of Hope’s license.

As far as Bostick is concerned, the agency is out of business. But its Web site is still active. It is advertising three “situations” to prospective parents on adoption sites, although Chaffee says her company is accepting no new clients. Regardless, she continues to operate her separate adoption consulting firm.

A closed chapter

The failed adoptions left the Freemans and the Arduzes in different places.

The Freemans worked with another agency, in Houston, and adopted a child later last year.

The Arduzes hired a lawyer to request a refund from Valley of Hope. Finally, they got back $3,000, half the money they had paid for the birth mother’s expenses. But they still are out $15,500.

With that, the Arduzes gave up on adoption.

“We lost so much money that I’m still paying for,” Krista Arduz said. “We sort of closed that chapter.”

Shortly after the adoption fell through, Arduz’s appendix ruptured. In bed for weeks with plenty of time to think, she wrote a letter to Chaffee — “woman to woman, mother to mother,” she said. She asked for a full refund, or at least an apology.

She never heard back.


Sunday, April 25, 2010

Isreali Gay Men turn to US for surrogacy

The quest for a family

Israeli gays turn to the United States for surrogate births -- illegal in their country

Sunday, April 25, 2010

By Evan Pondel, GlobalPost

TEL AVIV, Israel -- At an age when most people are welcoming their first grandchildren into the world, Avishay Greenfield, 59, gets little sleep as a father of twin babies.

For Mr. Greenfield, it is a dream come true, after waiting several decades to have children with his partner. But this later-in-life scenario isn't only a function of family dynamics and finances.

In the last several years, the coming of age for gay rights in Israel has encouraged a growing number of same-sex couples -- including Mr. Greenfield and his partner -- to consider surrogacy as an option for having children.

Yet despite the country's reputation as a world leader in reproductive technology, surrogacy is illegal for same-sex couples. A recently failed appeal challenging surrogacy laws serves as another setback for the gay community in Israel, forcing many couples to seek costly alternatives abroad.

"It is a basic human instinct and deep emotional need to want children," said Mr. Greenfield, who found a surrogate in the United States to give birth to his twins seven months ago. "It is absurd that we can't do this in our own country and must spend a lot of money to have children elsewhere."

The number of Israeli gay couples who have worked with U.S.-based agencies is unknown, but surrogate births to same-sex Israeli couples are expected to double this year at Circle Surrogacy, a Boston-based group that helped Mr. Greenfield find a surrogate. Israeli gay couples who worked with Circle in 2009 gave birth to 18 children.

The average cost for U.S. surrogacy services: $100,000 to $180,000, a price range that motivates many couples to seek out less-expensive alternatives in other countries, including India and Ukraine.

But it is significantly easier for Israelis to have children in the United States because of the countries' close diplomatic ties. And couples in search of surrogates in India and other places can hit a snag when trying to establish Israeli citizenship for their babies.

Finding the right surrogate is no easy feat either. In fact, surrogacy has never been a popular option for Israelis because of the strict laws governing who can be a surrogate.

Depending on religious beliefs, the rules are so cumbersome that surrogacy falls out of favor for many couples. For example, some religious leaders say the birth mother must be single and Jewish to ensure that the baby is Jewish; same goes for the egg donor. The pendulum swings the other way, too, as other religious leaders say it is not necessary to have a Jewish birth mother.

"Right now, the rabbinic opinion weighs toward the genetic mother as being the legal mother," said Rabbi Edward Reichman, a medical doctor and Albert Einstein College of Medicine professor in New York. "But it is hard to set legal precedents for surrogacy, because these things didn't exist in prior centuries."

In general, though, the concept of surrogacy for same-sex couples is frowned upon by religious Jews. "There is still ignorance and lack of acceptance among sectors of [Israeli] society," said Irit Rosenblum, founder and executive director of New Family Organization in Tel Aviv. About 50 percent of the Israeli population feels that same-sex couples are just as good at parenting as heterosexual couples, according to Ms. Rosenblum.

Procreation has a special meaning in Israel. "People in Israel, religious and secular, tend to take the biblical commandment, 'Be fruitful and multiply' seriously," Ms. Rosenblum said. "Having children is deeply rooted in Jewish culture and is a strong Jewish value. Israel is a very family and children-oriented society, and people respect parenting and family."

There is a subtle likeness to Mr. Greenfield in one of his twins. He and his partner each fertilized an egg that was then carried by the same surrogate.

The challenge was finding a surrogate who was aligned with the values that Mr. Greenfield envisioned for the birth mother of his children. The search began by riffling through dozens upon dozens of profiles. Eye color, height, education, religious beliefs and geographic locations were presented as if items on a menu.

Mr. Greenfield and his partner eventually found a match in an unexpected place -- Texas. The surrogate and her husband were former military and Christian. "But when we met them, we knew immediately that they were the right fit," Mr. Greenfield said. "They share the same values and are truly an extension of our family."

The process from finding a surrogate to the birth was about a year, but establishing Israeli citizenship for a child born in the United States posed other challenges.

After a child is born to a surrogate, parents must submit documents to Israel with DNA proof of parenthood. At the same time, the surrogate mother has to legally withdraw from parenthood, but only if a social worker appointed by the court attests that the circumstances justify the withdrawal. And finally, a conversion to Judaism may be performed to ensure the Jewishness of the newborn.

Mr. Greenfield said the process is emotionally draining, especially when family and friends are so far away. Of course, the biggest deterrent is cost. Health care in Israel is covered by the government for all citizens, whether it is a routine check-up or fertility treatments. That's not the case for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender couples who want to have children.

A court decision in 2005 granted lesbian couples the right to adopt a child born to the other partner by artificial insemination, and while it was a milestone event for a population that dreamed of parenthood, it fell short of entitling same-sex couples to surrogacy rights.

Etai Pinkas, a gay rights activist and Tel Aviv's youngest city councilman, was denied access to the Israeli surrogacy program last year. He recently appealed to the Supreme Court, but a couple of weeks ago was told by a representative that the surrogacy law does not apply to same-sex couples. Mr. Pinkas and his partner are now in the process of appealing to the Knesset -- Israel'si parliament -- to redefine surrogacy laws.

"This is pure discrimination that same-sex parenthood is not supported by the state of Israel," said Mr. Pinkas, who is also searching for surrogacy options outside the country. "I'm hoping to set a precedent here. We just want to have kids."

Even though the state rejected Mr. Pinkas' appeal, the state agreed that his petition is a wake-up call for Israel to re-examine the concept of family, parenthood and human dignity.

Einat Wilf, a Labor member of the Knesset, said the Israeli government is in the process of reviewing fertility laws. When asked whether the country would consider loosening such laws to increase fertility rates for Israelis, Mr. Wilf said the laws are focused on improving access to healthcare, not boosting demographics.

John Weltman, president and founder of Circle Surrogacy, said the very culture of Israel bodes well for surrogacy. "Family values are strong in this country," said Mr. Weltman, who was a commercial litigator before founding Circle in 1995. "But no matter where people are from, surrogacy shouldn't be perceived as just a process for those who want to have kids. It is about doing the most intimate thing in the world with a total stranger who will change your life forever."

Mr. Weltman began focusing Circle's attention on Israel after meeting Ron Poole-Dayan, an Israeli who moved to the United States to have children. Mr. Dayan said it was absurd a decade ago to think that Israeli same-sex couples would even consider having children.

"But there has been a critical mass of Israeli gay couples who have accumulated enough wealth," said Mr. Dayan, who has 9-year-old twins. "I do not think gay couples are attempting to fit into Israeli society. It's more of a genuine shared appreciation of the joys of having a family."

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Sunday, April 18, 2010

Frozen Embryo Dispute

Couples Clash Over Frozen Embryo Custody


CLAYTON, Mo. (CN) - A Missouri couple has traded lawsuits with a California couple in a case that tests the bounds of child custody law. The couples are fighting over control of two frozen embryos stored in a California fertility clinic. The case raises ethical questions over the definition of family relationships and the word used to describe the transfer of embryos: adoption or donation.
Edward and Kerry Lambert, of Pleasanton, Calif., filed a lawsuit in Alameda County Superior Court to secure custody of embryos they had given Missouri couple Jen and Patrick McLaughlin.
The embryos in dispute were created by the Lamberts, with Edward's sperm and an anonymous donor's egg. After the birth of their son, the Lamberts were left with four frozen embryos that they decided to give to the McLaughlins. The Lamberts say the other couple breached their contract by not returning the unused embryos after the McLaughlins gave birth to twins with the first two.
The Lamberts claim they do not want the remaining embryos implanted in Jen McLaughlin because of her violation of the contract and her "recent behavior in connection with the two embryos."
The McLaughlins fought back with a lawsuit in St. Louis County Circuit Court, claiming Jen's interests in "her unborn children" and the embryos' interest in their siblings "is of such uniqueness" to give the McLaughlins legal right to the embryos.

The embryo adoption agreement contains a stipulation that any unused embryos could revert back to the Lamberts after one year, should the couple so choose.
But the McLaughlins' attorney, Albert Watkins, challenges the validity of the provision. He said the contract is a glorified form contract, written up years earlier by an attorney at the urging of the Catholic Archdiocese.
At the time, Catholicism was trying to help its followers explore the new technology of in vitro fertilization, Watkins said. But the technology was not foolproof. Watkins said dozens of eggs were frozen and up to 12 to 14 eggs were implanted in a woman at once, often causing traumatic multiple miscarriages.
"There would be women who would go through 12 to 14 miscarriages in the span of a day or two and after that horrible experience, they would say 'I'm not going through this again,'" Watkins said. "Then you would have all these frozen embryos in limbo. So the Catholic Church included this inversion paragraph in the contract."
But technology improved, resulting in Jen McLaughlin getting pregnant and giving birth to twins on the first attempt.
Jen said she promised the Lamberts to "do whatever it took to give those embryos the best chance to be born. I've done that to the best of my abilities."
She said she would like to do the same for the remaining embryos, but needs time to recover from giving birth and to allow her growing family to adjust to the new arrivals.
The twins made seven kids for the McLaughlins; the first five were adopted. The couple cited family togetherness as a major reason they want to keep the remaining embryos.
"This is not about me," Jen said. "If I wanted a frozen embryo, there are three clinics available immediately. The issue is my family. It's about my children and protecting them."

Watkins is critical of the Lamberts' suit. He compares it to an interpleader action, settling a dispute over property -- not human lives.
"This isn't a sack of tacos that you pick up through a drive-thru at Jack-in-the-Box, bring to a party and you bring the rest home," Watkins said. "These are siblings, two of which are already born."
Jen McLaughlin said she wasn't aware of the Lamberts' intentions to market the remaining embryos to other couples until she received a Dec. 9, 2009 email from Kerry Lambert announcing her intentions. The email came a full two months before the contract with the McLaughlins expired. It included forwarded messages between the Lamberts and the new family, and stated that the new family had spent a week with them this summer and that they lived within seven hours of the McLaughlins so the siblings could possibly grow up together.
"I was stunned to find this out," Jen McLaughlin said. "My intention was that we wouldn't make a final decision until the first two were born."
The twins were born on Jan. 8 of this year. McLaughlin said she immediately sent Kerry Lambert an email stating her position on the embryos, and the two discussed it on the phone that day.
Later that evening, McLaughlin said she received another email from Kerry. The email was a forward of a chain of emails between the Lamberts and the new prospective family, which included information about the family and pictures.
So why did the deal go sour?
The Lamberts' attorney, Jed Somit, of Oakland, Calif., refused to comment.
"I can only speculate as to the reasons behind the actions of the Lamberts," Watkins said. "It is my opinion that those actions are not in the best interests of the kids."
Jen McLaughlin said she couldn't explain it, either.
"It makes no sense," she said. Kerry Lambert "is a social worker by trade. She goes to court on behalf of kids and I'm assuming that when she goes, she fights to keep siblings together. ... She's an adoptee herself, so she knows what its like" to be separated from family, Jen said.

The court will not have to decide when life begins in this case. Watkins said the point is moot, because both sides agree that the frozen embryos are living beings.
Instead, Watkins said the court will have to decide whether the rights of siblings to be together outweigh the contract's wording.
"They (the frozen embryos) have a right to their siblings and their siblings have a right to them and their mother and father have a right to them," Watkins said. "Those provisions must take precedent over a form doctrine.
"This isn't a situation where the eggs lie in limbo, but it's a situation where they just haven't been used yet because of scientific progress."
Jen McLaughlin has an even deeper fear.
The second email chain Kerry Lambert sent her on Dec. 9 contained personal information about the new family, including medical information about the prospective mother. After researching the mother's medical condition online, Jen believes that the woman would likely miscarry the embryos.
"I don't believe she can carry to full term," she said. "I sent all of the medical information to the (Lamberts). I copied all of the information I found to the email and included links to the medical sites where I found it.
"I told (the Lamberts) that I consider this a death sentence to those babies."
The Lamberts seek sole custody of the two embryos, and the McLaughlins want a judge to grant Jen "the legal right to direct the disposition of the unthawed embryos."
The Reproductive Science Center of the San Francisco Bay Area, where the embryos are stored, is staying neutral until the issue is decided in the courts.
A hearing to address McLaughlin's request for a temporary restraining order is set for April 14. There are no pending hearings on the Lamberts' suit, according to the Alameda County Court's Web site.
Meanwhile, Jen McLaughlin says she hopes a civil resolution can be reached. She still refuses to identify the Lamberts by name, instead referring to them as the donor parents, to honor a confidentiality agreement the couples had, even though the Lamberts' name became public record once the lawsuits were filed.
"I'm praying that at the end of the day, we can mend our fences," Jen said. "I'm willing to forgive and forget."

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Russia Suspends Adoptions by Americans

Russia Suspends Adoptions by Americans
Published: April 15, 2010

BuzzPermalink MOSCOW — Russia formally announced on Thursday that it would suspend all adoptions of Russian children by Americans, responding to the case of a 7-year-old boy who was sent back to Moscow alone last week by his adoptive mother in Tennessee. The case of the boy, who was named Artyom in Russia before he was adopted last year, has caused widespread anger here, and Russian officials said new regulations had to be put in place before adoptions by Americans could proceed.

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The announcement by the Russian Foreign Ministry gave no indication of how long the suspension would last. The State Department in Washington is sending a high-level delegation to Moscow to hold talks on reaching an agreement, and both countries have expressed hope that the matter can be resolved quickly.

“Future adoptions of Russian children by citizens of the United States, which are now suspended, are possible only if such an agreement is reached,” a spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, Andrei Nesterenko, said at a briefing on Thursday.

Officials at the United States Embassy in Moscow said they had not received official notification of a suspension and were seeking more information from their Russian counterparts.

Without formal notification, some American officials said they would continue operating as if no suspension had been put in place. But Russian officials said in interviews that no adoptions would be allowed for now. More than 250 American families have nearly completed the adoption process and are poised to pick up their Russian children, but their cases will not be allowed to conclude until the new rules are approved, Russian officials said.

In all, some 3,000 American families have begun the adoption process, according to the Joint Council on International Children’s Services. Russian officials said they would continue to accept applications and process paperwork from potential adoptive parents.

Russia was the third leading source of adoptive children in the United States in 2009, with 1,586, after China and Ethiopia, officials said. More than 50,000 Russian children have been adopted by United States citizens since 1991, according to the United States Embassy.

Artyom, who was named Justin by his adoptive American mother, arrived in Moscow last week after flying by himself from Washington. He presented the authorities with a note from his adoptive mother in which she said she could no longer handle him.

The mother, Torry Ann Hansen, a registered nurse from Shelbyville, Tenn., said the boy was “violent and has severe psychopathic issues.” She added that she “was lied to and misled by the Russian orphanage workers” about his troubles.

The authorities in the United States are now investigating her conduct.

Russian authorities, who now have custody of the boy, have said he behaves normally and have harshly criticized Ms. Hansen for sending him back.

Cases of children adopted from Russia being harmed in the United States have received intense publicity here. Fourteen Russian children have died of abuse or neglect at their hands of the adoptive American parents since 1996, Russian officials said last year.

Last Friday, the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, calling Artyom’s case “the last straw” and said he was proposing the suspension.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Adopted Russian Boy Returned to Russia

Adopted Boy Is Returned to Russia
Published: April 9, 2010

MOSCOW (AP) -- Russia should freeze all child adoptions with U.S. families, the country's foreign minister urged Friday after an American woman allegedly put her 8-year-old adopted Russian son on a one-way flight back to his homeland.

Artyom Savelyev arrived in Moscow unaccompanied on a United Airlines flight Thursday from Washington, the Kremlin children's rights office said Friday.

The children's office said the boy, whose adoptive name is Justin Hansen, was carrying a letter from his adoptive mother, Torry Hansen of Shelbyville, Tennessee, saying she was returning him due to severe psychological problems.

''This child is mentally unstable. He is violent and has severe psychopathic issues,'' the letter said, according to Russian officials, who sent what they said was a copy of the letter to The Associated Press. The authenticity of the letter could not be independently verified.

The U.S. ambassador to Russia, John Beyrle, said he was ''deeply shocked by the news'' and ''very angry that any family would act so callously toward a child that they had legally adopted.''

The boy is now in the hospital in northern Moscow for a checkup, Anna Orlova, spokeswoman for Kremlin's Children Rights Commissioner Pavel Astakhov, told The Associated Press.

Orlova, who visited Savelyev on Friday, said the child reported that his mother was ''bad,'' ''did not love him,'' and used to pull his hair.

Savelyev was adopted late September last year from the town of Partizansk in Russia's Far East.

He turned up at the door of the Russian Education and Science Ministry on Thursday afternoon accompanied by a Russian man who had been hired by Savelyev's adopted grandmother to pick him up from the airport, according to the ministry. The chaperone handed over the boy and his documents, and then left, officials said.

The education minister said later Friday that it had decided to suspended the license of World Association for Children and Parents -- a Renton, Washington-based agency that processed Savelyev's adoption -- for the duration of the probe.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in televised remarks that the ministry would recommend that the U.S. and Russia hammer out an agreement before any new adoptions are allowed.

''We have taken the decision ... to suggest a freeze on any adoptions to American families until Russia and the USA sign an international agreement'' on the conditions for adoptions and the obligations of host families, Lavrov was quoted as saying.

Lavrov said the U.S. had refused to negotiate such an accord in the past but ''the recent event was the last straw.''

Last year, nearly 1,600 Russian children were adopted in the United States, according to Tatyana Yakovleva of the ruling United Russia party.

Rob Johnson, a spokesman for the Tennessee Department of Children's Services, said the agency is looking into the allegations, although they do not handle international adoptions.

Torry Ann Hansen is listed as a licensed registered nurse in Shelbyville, Tenn., according to the Tennessee Department of Health's Web site. No work address is listed.

Her name appears in a list of August 2007 graduates from Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tenn., with a Masters of Science in Nursing degree.

United Airlines allows unaccompanied children as young as 5 years old on direct flights. Children age 8 and above can catch connecting flights, as well. A United spokesperson wasn't immediately available to comment.


Associated Press writer Kristin Hall in Nashville, Tennessee, and Joshua Freed in Minneapolis contributed to this report.