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Owner of California Surrogacy Agency Embezzled $2M

Intended parents considering surrogacy as a potential alternative parenting option should take note of the recent Tonya Collins case.

The former owner of the Central California-based Surrogenesis agency pleaded guilty to charges that she stole approximately $2 million in funds from prospective parents – funds which the parents had thought they set aside to pay surrogate fees and help cover the costs of surrogacy’s medical expenses.

Without question, Collins’ criminal dealings are inexcusable and reprehensible. But prospective parents exploring surrogacy should focus less on their well-justified feelings of moral outrage and more on the practical lessons to be learned.

The scheme that unfolded at Surrogenesis brings to light the stark lack of regulation governing surrogacy in the U.S. While California has recently introduced legislation that effectively codifies general best practices and helps protect both surrogates and intended parents, surrogacy’s regulatory environment as a whole still is one that is largely hands-off.

As such, the commercial surrogacy industry is rife with opportunities for fraud and abuse by its practitioners. For intended parents, this means that you need to be extra cautious and deliberate in choosing your team of professionals. The stakes are far too high – and the risk of abuse far too great – for you to settle for a consultant, lawyer, or agency with whom you feel anything less than one hundred percent confident and comfortable.

If there are elements of your surrogacy arrangement that strike you as strange, you should trust your instincts and seek clarification. If you’re met with resistance in your questioning, take it as a sign to look elsewhere. You shouldn’t be required to place funds in a mysterious escrow account; you shouldn’t be prevented from meeting or engaging with your surrogate; you shouldn’t be forced to rely strictly on limited email correspondence in carrying out what is perhaps the single most important thing that you’ll ever do in your life.

The Tonya Collins case is a disheartening reminder of the real risks that are out there. But you shouldn’t let it discourage or dissuade you from the dream of bringing a child into your family that is biologically your own. When carried out responsibly and correctly, surrogacy can bring profound joy. Just be certain that you’re going about it the right way.