ARR (Alternative Reproductive Resources) is thrilled to announce that 2017 marks our 25th Anniversary!! Since 1992, Robin von Halle and Mary Ellen McLaughlin have been pioneers in the field of Third Party Reproduction. We were the first Egg Donor agency in the Midwest and one of the first in the country. We were also among the first to start a comprehensive Gestational Surrogacy program in the U.S. We are so proud to have helped to bring over 2,000 (and counting) babies into this world through our egg donation program and over 350 (and counting) babies through our Gestational Surrogacy Program. Our stellar reputation has earned the trust of our clients, doctors, psychologists and lawyers who work within our unique field. Our hearts and souls are with our clients every step of the way through their Egg Donor and Gestational Surrogacy journey. We are also proud that ARR’s lawyer, Nidhi Desai, was instrumental in creating the legislation for the Illinois State Gestational Surrogacy Statute and recently helped to modernize the Illinois Parentage Act to recognize children born of assisted reproductive technology. As we celebrate our 25th year, we are honored and proud to have helped build families all around the globe and look forward to helping many more families to come. To learn more about ARR, we invite you to visit our website at: http://www.arr1.com
A surrogacy horror story from 2001 was recently publicized by Caitlin Keating in March 2016 entitled, “Parents Shockingly Back Out on Surrogate Mom Pregnant with Twins: ‘It’s Your Problem Now’”. The story describes the disastrous relationship between the surrogate, Susan Ring, and the intended parents whose names are not revealed. We at Alternative Reproductive Resources (ARR) find the article troubling and in no way reflect our agency policies and procedures. Additionally, we strictly adhere to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine guidelines (ASRM). In other words, there were many red flags right from the start.
First, Susan Ring being dictated that she would have to reduce from triplets to twins should never have happened. In stark contrast, when ARR begins our matching process, surrogates and intended parents are required to fill out detailed questionnaires concerning matching preferences. ARR takes this matching process very seriously to ensure that all parties are on the same page as far as any matter of contention. This includes the surrogates preferences with whom they would like to be matched, the number of embryos to be transferred, and feelings regarding termination or selective reduction. All of these crucial issues are discussed in detail with our surrogates and intended parents before presented with a match.
Further, at our agency, every gestational surrogate, GS, and intended parents, IP, meet face to face with a psychologist who will facilitate a match meeting. In regards to the questionnaires mentioned above, the GS and IP discuss their answers and reasoning behind their answers. Our psychologists specialize in third party reproduction, and therefore are very knowledgeable and sensitive when talking about such difficult topics. Among other topics, the questionnaire, psychological issues, financial standings, and supports systems are discussed to determine if the surrogate or intended parents can more forward in the process. In the article, the surrogate was unaware the intended father was bipolar, which would be unlikely to happen if a proper psychological assessment occurred and all information fully disclosed. Also, the financial situation of the couple would be analyzed by the psychologist to see if they can afford surrogacy before beginning the process, which did not occur in Susan Ring’s case according to the article.
In addition to the intended parents’ financial situation being predetermined, our agency requires the surrogate’s compensation including any additional funds be placed in an escrow account. The escrow agency, which is licensed & insured, is run by a CPA and an attorney. This way ARR ensures the compensation is in place prior to our surrogates starting a cycle. A direct agreement is completed between the intended parents and the surrogate which includes a payment schedule to finalize the compensation. Between weeks 27-30, our agency reviews the funds in the escrow accounts to confirm whether more money needs to be allotted prior to the delivery. With ARR’s checks & balances, we have not been involved in a situation where the funds have depleted prior to paying all of the compensation and expenses.
Finally, one of the most important parts of the surrogacy process is that our surrogates have a strong support system. The surrogate’s support network is assessed through our screening process and is extremely important for our surrogates. In the article, the intended parents abandon the two twins nearing the end of Susan’s pregnancy. At ARR, we have separate advocates for both our surrogates and our intended parents. Our clients and we find this much more effective than a ‘case manager’ responsible for all parties. If a highly rare situation like this occurred, ARR has the experience to know how best to proceed.
Overall, the lack of guidelines, rules, and a process for determining viable intended parents and surrogates resulted in a surrogacy horror story. ARR’s years of experience coupled with strict ethical and professional policies ensure a smooth process for our surrogates and intended parents and allows us to be ready for any new challenges that may arise.
By Robin von Halle
Donor Agent Provocateur appeared last week in the New York Times Magazine column, The Ethicist, by Ariel Kaminer. The Ethicist responded to a reader’s questions regarding the ethical implications of a situation involving a fertility consultant hired by a Chicago couple interested in finding an egg donor sharing some of their ethnic background. The fertility consultant was ultimately unsuccessful in finding a donor of the particular ethnicity; however, she now refuses to refund their retainer. Did the fertility consultant behave ethically? ARR agrees with The Ethicist’s assertion that, as a professional consultant offering a service, it is unequivocally unethical to charge a fee for a service which, in reality, the fertility consultant did not intend to provide.
As a third party reproductive agency facilitating roughly 130 matches each year, ARR serves as an advocate and support system for donors, surrogates and intended parents alike. Our role is to be a resource, providing the tools and expertise to help intended parents to make informed decisions and navigate a complex process. As opposed to the fertility consultant, ARR does not ask for a deposit until we have successfully matched a couple and donor. We do not believe it is ethical to accept payment until all parties involved are ready and willing to move forward. Intended parents are under no financial obligations until an official match has been made, and if for some reason a donor is unable to move forward, the couple would be re-matched at no additional fee.
Above all, ARR never promises unrealistic matches. It is not uncommon for intended parents to request a donor that shares some of their own traits or cultural background. We do work with couples seeking a donor of a specific ethnicity. If we do not have a donor in our database matching the particular criteria desired, then we direct the couple to Donor Network Alliance to continue their search. That being said, in our twenty plus years of experience, an ethnic match is typically not deal a breaker. More importantly is finding a healthy, young, fertile donor with traits similar to that of the intended parents, if so desired. The majority of the time, when working with a reputable agency, a fertility consultant becomes a duplication of services, which add another layer of cost to the intended parents.
By Mary Ellen McLaughlin
Between increased media coverage and openness by celebrity role models about their struggles with and solutions to infertility, egg donation has become more mainstream, and, as such, a more “acceptable” course for young women to take to gain financial and psychic rewards.
On the plus side, this is good for us and our intended parents, as it gives us a larger pool from which to choose. The downside, of course, is that news coverage is fairly superficial and may create expectations among prospective donors that are pretty far removed from reality.
This was brought home to me in a recent article in Jezebel entitled “Do Egg Donors Lie?”
In answer to the title question, yes, some prospective egg donors do lie, and I have caught a number of them doing so (on issues ranging like physical and mental health concerns, for example). It gets them bounced from consideration. I’ve developed a good radar for this, as a BSN who has worked with egg donors for 18 years and in women’s health for seven years before that. It helps to know what to ask and how to ask it, and our policy of interviewing egg donors face-to-face (in person and via Skype) is hugely beneficial.
Often, what they commit are sins of omission, not commission, but those still may be more plentiful because of the economic environment and, let’s face it, the prospect of “easy money” to offset the financial stresses.
And it doesn’t help that the increasingly competitive environment in our industry has driven compensation to, well, dangerous levels. The danger lies where it is less a reflection of time invested in the donation process (as per ASRM guidelines) and more one that’s essentially a bidding war for genetically ideal eggs. Is a girl who never considered donating until she wound up in dire financial straits being lured or coerced by the compensation? It’s an increasingly important ethical issue.
Of course, once prospective egg donors go beyond the media hype, they understand that egg donation may not be all so quick a buck. There’s a time commitment involved, from the medical and psychological screenings and legal consultations to medical checkups throughout the donation process, that can easily stretch past the three-month mark.
And even so, they may be accepted by the agency as a donor but still not pass the screenings. They may not get matched. They may stimulate poorly. There are no guarantees.
Egg donation is an important component of today’s fertility industry. It’s not something just any woman can do, for any number of reasons. Young women who are realistic with their expectations will happily reap both the psychic and financial rewards.
By Mary Ellen McLaughlin
One of the common questions we see on the discussion boards of the surrogacy communities we follow is typically posed by women who are considering becoming surrogates for the first time: “Do I do it myself or go through an agency?”
Responses from others who have taken this path before vary, but lean toward recommending registering with an agency for the first time. At the same time, many say they have been do-it-yourselfers for subsequent surrogacies, recommending that route only after learning the ropes via the first agency experience.
Of course, I represent an agency, so forgive my bias. But the fact is that not all agencies are alike. And neither are all surrogacy journeys. There are many complexities involved and details to be managed in being a surrogate. The medical aspects aside, issues range from the legalities (contracts, compensation, meeting state laws over surrogacy arrangements, for example) to the surrogate’s emotional readiness to day-to-day dealings with the intended parents.
Frankly, once our surrogates begin the process, they’re happy to have an agency in their corner. If you’re thinking about embarking on this journey yourself, here are four reasons to consider an agency, and key points to keep in mind as you’re talking to likely candidates.
- The agency is your advocate in this process, representing your interests in everything from finding the right intended parents for you, helping to navigate issues that arise during your journey, to ensuring that you have someone in your corner with your best interests at heart. If you’re talking to an agency, ask for specific examples of how this role has actually played out with the surrogates with whom they have worked.
- As part and parcel of this role, the best agencies will ensure that their staff is available to you 24/7, to hold your hand, answer your questions and anticipate your needs.
- The agency has experience in dealing with all the aspects of the surrogacy journey. It knows what to expect for all the facets and, thus, can anticipate and effectively manage any bumps that may occur on the road.
- The agency also has developed the resources necessary to meet the surrogate’s interests, from legal specialists in family law to insurance programs to meet supplemental healthcare needs.
Anyone who’s considering becoming a surrogate knows it’s not a decision to be taken lightly. Once you’ve talked to several agencies using these points as a guide, go back to those message boards and ask members of the community to share their experiences, pro and con, with the agencies in question. You’ll benefit by extra careful due diligence in the long run.