BioethicsTue Feb 19, 2013 - 4:01 pm EST
Canadian fertility company charged with multiple counts of illegal activity
BRIGHTON, Ontario, February 19, 2013, (LifeSiteNews.com) - An Ontario CEO stands accused of dozens of counts of trafficking in human eggs or sperm, paying surrogate mothers, and forgery. After a year-long investigation, the RCMP have laid charges against a fertility consultant and her company, alleging contravention of both Canada's Assisted Human Reproduction Act and the Criminal Code.
Leia Picard, CEO of Canadian Fertility Consultants which operated in the small southern Ontario town of Brighton, is charged with 19 counts of buying or offering to buy human sperm or eggs, buying or offering to buy the services of surrogate mothers, and taking money to arrange those services, according to a report by the National Post.
Picard and her company are also charged with eight counts of forgery, according to RCMP spokeswoman Cpl. Cathie Glenn.
The Assisted Human Reproduction Act states that buying or selling sperm, eggs, embryos, or the services of surrogate mothers in Canada is a criminal offence.
Although the law was enacted in 2004, it was reported that this is the first time the statutes have been brought to bear on suspected illegal activity.
Two Canadian women told the NP last year Picard recruited them as egg donors and paid them $5,000. Though they were told the money was to cover their expenses in providing their eggs, they both indicated they incurred no expenses in the process.
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One 22-year-old university student said she had "no expenses to speak of and took off no time from school."
“I was a broke student and the $5,000 price tag was very desirable,” the Vancouver Island resident said. But, she added, "I felt like one part on the production line to eventually create this child, which this family is paying thousands of dollars to essentially produce by artificial means.”
Police raided Picard's office last February and seized computer equipment and files after allegations were brought forward that Picard had also conducted business with Hilary Neiman, a U.S. lawyer sentenced to jail for running an illegal surrogacy “baby trafficking” ring.
Surrogacy is legal in both Canada and the U.S. but both countries require that the mother and would-be-parent(s) have a legal agreement before the surrogate gets pregnant.
Neiman had surrogates impregnated in the Ukraine with no arrangements made for "intended parents." The babies were then offered for sale to the highest bidder, with prices often exceeding $150,000.
Neiman offered “designer babies in race and gender,” according to a CNN report, which noted that the “baby trafficking” business' only illegal activity was its non-compliance with a California law requiring adoptive parents to sign up before the baby was implanted in a surrogate, instead of afterwards.
“Trafficking in human life without having a parent ahead of time is really, I think, quite troubling,” FBI agent Keith Slaughter told CNN.
It was alleged that one of Neiman's illegal surrogates was a Canadian.
“I do know there had been someone who reported this to local Canadian law,” said Andrew Vorzimer, a Los Angeles-area fertility treatment lawyer who helped the FBI in its investigation of Neiman.
The RCMP made no comment on whether Picard and Canadian Fertility Consultants were implicated in the Neiman investigation.
On the Canadian Fertility Consultants website, Picard describes herself as the mother of a child at 16, a gestational surrogate twice, and an egg donor several times. She says she kept two children, aged 17 and 9.
A documentary titled Eggsploitation, created by The Center for Bioethics and Culture, addresses the exploitation of women by the multi-billion dollar infertility industry in the United States.
"Eggsploitation renders the medical risks of paid egg donation with care and truth in every detail and makes a thoroughly devastating case against the commodification of women and their eggs," said Dr. Donald Landry, M.D., Ph.D., Chair of the Department of Medicine at the Columbia University School of Medicine.