Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Families Through Surrogacy: Consumer Advocacy Group or Trade Show?

I was very excited when I first joined the FTS conference committee .  I felt honored to be part of a group that promoted transparency, ethics and best practices in international surrogacy.  It wasn't very long though before  I began questioning how the conference's policy on sponsorship could be reconciled with its mission statement.   

While I understand the financial reality of doing conferences around the world, I am disheartened by the way the financial need for sponsorship appears to be overshadowing FTS's stated mission.   When I was on the committee one of the very difficult conversations we had regarded a set of sponsors who had ties to a medical tourism company currently under FBI investigation.   When I expressed concern about promoting players with a history that was at the  least problematic,  Sam responded with something along the lines of "Well they are being investigated, but they aren't indicted yet."

Surely there is a better measure of best practices than "Not yet indicted." Allowing people with long histories of questionable behavior the opportunity to promote themselves at Families through Surrogacy conferences not only makes vulnerable IPs a captive audience to providers with known issues, it undermines the credibility that the conference has with the wider surrogacy community.  Whether the committee realizes it or not, allowing someone to present at the conference is an endorsement of their services.

Unfortunately, the conference has been used by more than one provider in this manner.   Speaking at the conference legitimizes providers, allowing them to present themselves as recognized "authorities" when that is often not be the reality.  It grants them a veneer of respectability and allows them them not only a captive audience, but they can later refer to their "speaking engagement" as a way to recruit new clients.  

The year  I spoke at the West Coast Families through Surrogacy conference Kim Waters Hendrix of Complete Surrogacy Solutions also spoke.    It was very clear the conference was used as a platform  to promote her business.   This pattern was repeated later that same year in Australia, where many people complained of Kim's "grandstanding."  Kim  used the forum not only to promote her own services, but also to denigrate her competitors.

Last year, Megan Sainsbury was "banned" from the Families through Surrogacy conference in Australia.   This year, Kim Hendrix is banned while Megan is attending under the umbrella of the clinic she promotes in Mexico.  What changed during this time?  To my knowledge,  no one from Families Through Surrogacy has explained why Kim went from being actively promoted to being banned and what Meg did that resolved the issues that caused her to not be allowed at the conference one year and then allowed to return the next.

At the very least, if a concern is brought to a provider, and it's serious enough to warrant not allowing them to attend the conference,  and then they take the time and energy to resolve those issues so that you feel comfortable bringing them back, it seems like it would be in everyone's best interest to give them credit for making those changes.

If the conference wants to grant sponsorships to anyone willing to pay the fee,  in much the same way that vendors at a trade show are selected, that is clearly their prerogative.   However, it's my opinion that if you want to maintain credibility as a non profit IP focused advocacy group, "not yet indicted" and "not popular at this time" is an incredibly low standard for professional participants.

When Families through Surrogacy allows agents to abuse intended parents publicly and says nothing?  They are giving their tacit approval of the behavior.  They are in fact contributing to the climate of fear and intimidation that permeates the international surrogacy community.   When Families through Surrogacy is not transparent about how they choose sponsors, they are not modeling the transparency that intended parents should expect from ALL parties who work in this field.  

I know that I am not the first person, nor am I likely to be the last,  to bring these issues to their attention.

Consumer driven advocacy groups have a responsibility to advocate.   If they do not want to take on that responsibility then truth in advertising demands that they notify attendees that they are a trade group for agents and clinics.   This would all them to continue to provide information to consumers, but would give those intended parents the proper context for that information.

If you aren't part of the solution, you're part of the problem.  

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