This past year has seen the worst of times for the assisted reproductive technology community. In my sixteen years or practice in this field, I have never been more disillusioned or pessimistic about this industry. The year began with the OctoMom debacle and is ending with numerous surrogate and egg donor programs shuttering their doors and disappearing with client trust funds. Of course, in between we had the SurroGenesis and B Coming scandals. All in all, the worst year ever for Intended Parents, Surrogate and Egg Donors who had to grapple with the embezzlement of funds to the abrupt end of any dream of having a child.
So the depths that some of these agencies will sink to should not have come as any surprise to me as I reviewed documents from a potential client contemplating suing a surrogate agency that allegedly embezzled funds. The documents I had the misfortune to review were replete with the all-too standard canards and misrepresentations. What was particularly galling was that this agency insisted that their client deposit $8,900 for legal representation, $9,900 for court proceedings and $41,000 for medical procedures. The problems? Well, since when has a single IVF cycle ever been estimated at $41,000? The legal fees the agency insisted be deposited in their account is double the industry average and the costs for the court proceedings were over-stated by more than $8,500! Needless to say, this potential client deposited an amount well in excess of what was necessary and has been unable to get the funds refunded. Sadly, this has become too commonplace in 2009.
Will 2010 be any better? While ordinarily an unrepentant optimist, I am not sanguine. In fact, I am actually more concerned that 2010 will see even more failed agencies than 2009 as many of the agencies that went belly-up this year were living high on the hog in 2008 and the trust funds that went missing were mostly deposited at a time when the economy was doing better. What many of these agencies did was to dip into their trust funds to cover their costs (SurroGenesis being an obvious exception as they just flat out stole the money), expecting new business to replace the absconded funds. However, as fewer clients retained these agencies, the anticipated funds never materialized and some of these agencies have been on life support as they awaited new clients with fresh funds to continue to perpetuate their pyramid schemes. Well, with those replacement funds no longer available, many of these agencies will have no choice but to pull the plug leaving the industry awash in new victims who have lost their agencies, their funds and quite possibly any chance of having a family. In the meantime, the FBI does nothing to prosecute these criminals, lawmakers sit on their hands and the fertility community braces itself for more of the same in 2010.