THE BUSINESS OF SELLING A BABY - LEGALLY
April 3, 1980
Hey, you wanna baby
Have I got a deal for you two. The kid is white and American, and his mother was a cheerleader. And get this: His father was a doctor. But a kid like this, he's gonna go fast. You don't wanna waste time. The price? Figure between $12,000 and $15,000 for everything. Sure it sounds steep, but lemme tell ya, this kid's guaranteed. Absolutely guaranteed.
Lynne McTaggart calls this deal - which was proposed to her by a Florida lawyer five years ago while she was posing as an adoptive parent - "the perfect crime." The reason it's perfect, she adds, is because it isn't a crime at all, at least not in most states.
"But it's a psychological crime against everybody," McTaggart argues. And therein hangs the issue of baby brokering.
McTaggert, 29, a New York freelance writer, spent 2 1/2 years researching and writing "The Baby Brokers," a recently published book about lawyers who legally act as middlemen between pregnant women (generally unwed) and adoptive parents (generally desperate). Taking advantage of the diminishing supply of white, healthy babies available for adoption in the US, they have created a tidy operation which features price haggling, imports, marketing strategies and the ever-present American business phenomenon of supply and demand.
"The majority of people who adopt children aren't involved in this because they can't afford it," McTaggart said in a recent interview in Boston. "This is for people who have money and who want an American-born, white infant. They want what they think is a perfect' baby. So they go to these brokers."
Adopting a healthy white baby is not what it used to be. The wait in Massachusetts now generally runs from three to six years, for example. The reason is simple: Babies are hard to find because more unwed mothers are choosing to keep them. Further, those who do not want to have babies can legally have abortions. Of the 37 licensed adoption agencies in Massachusetts, only a few place white, healthy babies. The others, for the most part, place only racially mixed, black, older or handicapped children.
But the demand for white babies is there. And when some parents find out they just can't make a telephone call and order the baby of their choosing, they also find out there is an expensive alternative: the baby broker. Only five of the United States - Massachusetts among them - do not allow biological mothers to make placements themselves without going through an agency or the state itself. This is where the middlemen come in, passing the babies directly
from their biological mothers to their adoptive parents and collecting a fee for doing so. Also turning a profit are referral agencies such as hospitals and abortion hotlines, which receive "donations" from the brokers in return for putting them in touch with pregnant girls and women. When the living and medical expenses of the mother are tossed in, a $15,000 package is not outrageous. (By contrast, an agency adoption in Massachusetts now usually runs between $2000 and $3000.)
"I consider this to be selling," Lynn McTaggart contended. "Most of it certainly involves cash deals. The bottom line is that there's a sale going on. Somebody's being brokered and somebody's doing the brokering."
But not in Massachusetts, where a child under the age of 14 must be placed by the Department of Social Services or an agency licensed by the state Office for Children. (Blood relatives, step-parents and guardians may also adopt.) A lawyer is involved in the agency procedure only when he or she represents the adoptive parents in probate court. If the adoption goes through the state, a social worker represents the family and there is no fee.
All of which, McTaggart contends, does not at all leave Massachusetts residents out of the baby brokering process.
"The law keeps all these deals out of Massachusetts courts, but it doesn't prohibit them from going on," she said. "I mean, I know of numerous Masschusetts couples who have established fraudulent residence in other states. I know of Massachusetts couples who have established residency by getting an apartment in Florida. I know of a Massachusetts couple who established a fraudulent residency in New York. All they do is say they're living there. And the only way it's checked is a social worker comes to visit them prior to the final adoption. They're there when the social worker comes, and they say it's their home."
(Betty Laning of Newton, a board member of a volunteer organization for adoptive parents known as the Open Door Society, confirms a small number of parents travel out of state in order to use brokers. She also says these types of adoptions apparently have the same success rate as agency adoptions. "But there are risks," she adds. "You have to take someone's word for the health of the baby and the background of the mother, for instance.")
"Now the other thing about the Boston area is this," McTaggart continued. "Boston was - is - one of the places out-of-state lawyers go to get babies.
College towns are good sources. The brokers, for instance, will set up pregnancy counseling services' in college towns to learn about pregnant girls. So, again, it's going out of state, but it involves Massachusetts people.
"Then there's the quickie Mexican procedure," she said. "The attorney in Mexico finds an American-born baby for them. But it'll go through the Mexican courts, usually in Juarez. Only half of the couple needs to go down. The biological mother doesn't need to appear. It's finalized in about 15 minutes and there's no social worker investigation. And there's no way the American authoriites can object to it. It's legal."
Indeed, it is all legal. No major baby broker has ever been convicted, although three of the major subjects in McTaggart's book were indicted on various peripheral charges. Many people, defend the practice of baby brokering. They wonder who is being harmed. After all, doesn't everyone - the mother, the lawyer, and the new parents - get what he or she wants?
"There are all kinds of victims," McTaggart argued. "The victims are the couples who can't afford the going rates, or who have to mortgage their house to buy a baby. You've got young women who are often coerced into giving up their babies. You've got the child who can go to a potentially abusive home,
because no checking is done. And there's the situation where you not only have to tell your kid some day that he was adopted, but also how much he cost.
"Are we going to buy and sell human beings?" McTaggart wondered. "I think that's an important question to ask. And I think we're already here.