I was remiss in not sharing this earlier, but it has been a very chaotic week. As everyone now knows, one of the defendants who plead guilty in the baby selling ring was Carla Chambers. Ms. Chambers has a history of sordid dealings with the infertility industry dating back 15 years. In fact, in 2000, Chambers was convicted in New Zealand of fraud for running a scheme eerily similar to the one exposed by the FBI last week.
As early as 1996, Chambers was advertising for traditional “surrogates” in New Zealand offering them up to $10,000 to undergo an insemination. Chambers, who was a nurse, would bring a syringe of anonymous donor sperm with her (stored under her armpit to keep it warm) to the surrogate’s home and either Chambers would undertake the insemination or the surrogate would self-inseminate. Thereafter, the surrogates would travel to the United States for the delivery so that the babies would be born as American citizens and to take advantage of our favorable adoption laws. According to the 2000 news report, this illegal adoption/surrogacy operation was masterminded by a California adoption attorney.
It remains unclear whether the Intended/Adoptive Parents were known to the “Surrogate” before the insemination took place. There is also no indication as to the identity of the California attorney who allegedly hatched this plan; whether there were any contracts between the parties; or how the parental rights were finalized. Regardless, clearly these were neither lawful surrogacy or adoption arrangements. There are a number of contemptible aspects to this story, but perhaps the most despicable is that the conduct that ultimately got her convicted involved the use of fraudulent documents to obtain fertility medication and ovulation kits for a 16 year old potential surrogate. I am left speechless that Ms. Chambers did not face a harsher sentence (or be subject to deportation) for trafficking given her attempted exploitation of a minor in such a reprehensible way. Moreover, I am left to wonder how Ms. Chambers could have been approved to serve as a surrogate for any U.S. surrogacy agency (as reports have speculated) given this very public record of depravity and criminal conduct.
It also is worth noting that it was not long after New Zealand shut down her baby supply ring that Chambers began flying American women into the Ukraine to undergo IVF transfers with embryos created from hand-picked donor gametes. It would appear that rather than be deterred by the legal prohibitions and her conviction in New Zealand, Chambers escalated her operations by taking advantage of the greater flexibility afforded by IVF as well as a new venue in the Ukraine to create these designer babies for sale.
Here is the original story that appeared in the New Zealand Herald on June 3, 2000:
A Lower Hutt housewife ran a surrogacy scheme that supplied at least three syringe-conceived babies to infertile American couples. Carla Lee Chambers, herself a mother of seven children from three marriages, had advertised for potential surrogate mothers in newspapers and magazines such as Little Treasures since at least 1996.
Under the scheme, women were paid about $10,000 to inseminate themselves, or allow Chambers to inseminate them, with a syringe of warm semen from an unknown donor. Chambers, a 40-year-old American-born nurse, was aware of the life expectancy of semen so would arrive at the potential mother’s house with the syringe under her armpit to keep it warm.
If the insemination was successful, the women travelled to the United States in the later stages of pregnancy to have their babies. This made the child’s citizenship and subsequent adoption easier. If no pregnancy resulted, at least one of the women was supplied with laboratory forms to get her progesterone levels tested, and clomiphene citrate pills to help her conceive.
Sources say the surrogacy scheme was master-minded through a Californian-based adoption attorney. Through a legal process in the US, such attorneys use a facilitator – such as Chambers – to help find a baby for adoption.
The New Zealand mothers involved in the scheme were paid between $8000 and $12,000 a baby, and it is believed Chambers received the same amount. A person close to Chambers, who does not want to be named, said: “I knew what she was doing but the way she explained it to me I thought it was legal. She didn’t get paid that much, just enough to cover her costs really. “There was a genuine desire to help other couples to get a baby.” Sources estimate up to six babies had been born from the scheme since 1997.
The authorities first became aware of Chambers’ rent-a-womb business when they intercepted her at Auckland International Airport in January 1998. Customs alerted police after becoming suspicious about Chambers, who was travelling with her three-month-old son, a surrogate mother and her newborn. The baby was meant to have been born in the US but arrived prematurely. After talking to Chambers, police allowed the party to board the flight but kept an eye on them. The mother ended up pulling out of the scheme and returning to New Zealand with her infant.
Wellington Detective Sergeant Gray Harrison told the Weekend Herald: “There are no specific surrogacy laws that cover what she was doing.” Therefore, although police have not closed the file it is unlikely she will be charged for her involvement in the scheme. However, in the course of their investigation, police discovered Chambers had committed fraud.
After a three-day trial, a Wellington District Court jury yesterday found her guilty of four charges of using a document, two of obtaining a document and one of representing herself to be someone else. The charges relate to Chambers’ using a prescription and laboratory form in her name to get ovulation tests and fertility pills for a 16-year-old potential surrogate mother. They also relate to three postal boxes she opened to receive replies to her advertisements. At the fraud trial, crown prosecutor Grant Burston said Chambers committed fraud in relation to the surrogate scheme. He said, however, she was not breaking the law in any way by using surrogates.