With the media focused on the failures within our profession, often times these anomalies within the community overshadow the enormous amount of reputable agencies, attorneys, medical doctors and metal health professionals in the field. With over 200 agencies within the U.S. alone, how would one not well versed within the community be able to determine the agency's ability to provide quality services? How would an intended mother be able to insist on using an ART(assisted reproductive technology) mental health professional when she was unsure that such a thing existed? The answer came to me as I sat listening to a review of a sensationalized case currently prevalent in the media regarding a non-compliant surrogate and a now father of triplets.
Ethics or moral philosophy is the branch of philosophy that involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong conduct. (wikipedia.com). Within the surrogacy community, the idea of "right" and "wrong" often fall within a gray area open to interpretation and personal moral beliefs. So how, as an agency owner for example, do I best practice ethics and serve my community in the most professional and morally positive way? What are the moral guidelines I should follow when I enter into a gray area? How do I lead by example for fellow agencies to follow with ethical decency? The answer lies within the name itself; E.T.H.I.C.S.
"E" is for Excellence. ASRM guidelines exist as a baseline for the practices of surrogacy. These are the bare minimum of standards that should exist within your agency. These guidelines, while they hold no legal standing, are certainly an excellent jumping off point for standards that should upheld within your agency. However, do you want your agency to do the bare minimum? The answer is "no". Your clients and colleagues expect that you are serving your community with excellence. So, when there is a question of whether a surrogate is qualified or if an intended parent's criminal record should preclude them from using your agency, refer back to "excellence" as your standard practice. Live above the basic guidelines of ASRM and serve your clients and community with excellence.
"T" is for Transparency. As an agency, transparency is key to providing excellent service to your clients. Did your surrogate fail a MMPI test several years ago but has since made some life changes and passed her most current screening? Do your intended parents have multiple surrogates? You need to be transparent about all information so that both your surrogates, as well as your intended parents can make informed decisions. Being transparent allows for each party to be able to clearly see their path and to feel informed and supported throughout the process.
"H" is for honesty. As a new agency owner, honesty is an essential part of my profession. Be upfront and honest when you interview IPs and Surrogates. Be clear about your surrogate availability, provide accurate timelines and be clear about fees and potential additional costs. By leading by example, you can in return expect honesty from your clients as well. Let your clients know that dishonesty in any aspect of the process will be grounds for breech of contract and elimination from the agency. Being honest as an agency owner makes for journeys that have clear and appropriate expectations and end with satisfied clients.
"I" is for Instinct: Instinct is a feeling that is often disregarded because it can lack physical evidence. However, instinct is at the core of our ethical and moral compass and should not be overwritten. If you have a "bad feeling" about a particular set of intended parents, there is no harm in explaining that the agency is unable to handle their case. You can feel free to refer them to another agency who may be better equipped to handle their particular circumstance or personality. In the end, this is a service based industry with long term clients. You have to spend a lot of time and emotional energy on each case and it is completely acceptable to not utilize that energy on a case you do not feel 100% committed to.
"C" is for Connectivity: Being a small canoe in a very large ocean can be lonely, overwhelming and frustrating. Connecting to your clients and their needs is the first step in providing quality service. However, it does not stop there. Connecting to peers and professionals within your community helps protect you as well as your clients. Understanding that while you may have vetted your surrogate, the mental health professionals that you work with are another qualified set of eyes who may be able to spot potential issues. Your attorneys are there to provide quality contracts and to follow through with legal deadlines and requirements. Connecting yourself with qualified colleagues can help your agency stay on course through the uncertain seas of surrogacy.
"S" is for Stewardship: Stewardship is the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one's care (Merriam-Websters). Just as your surrogates are to act as stewards for their IPs unborn child, you as an agency owner, are equally responsible for carefully and ethically managing the complete surrogacy journey. Set up systems that keep detailed calendars and records. Be organized and proactive in managing and overseeing the process and journey. It is your job as an agency owner to keep everyone involved walking in the same direction, down the same path, towards a happy, healthy baby.
In trying to manage an agency that is above board and morally sound, E.T.H.I.C.S is a sure fire way to make sure you are always on the "right" side of any gray area. By being ethical and moral leaders within our profession, we can be sure that our clients are receiving the best possible care. Additionally, we can ensure that our growing fellowship is being led by a group of honest and trustworthy professionals who can guarantee a more positive and ethical representation of our amazing community.