Rich Vaughn Blog: Chicago Med Homeless Surrogate Unrealistic, Negative Portrayal

'Chicago Med' Gives Surrogacy a Bad Rap

A recent episode of NBC medical drama Chicago Med, (Season 1 Episode 15, “Inheritance”) set in the emergency room of Gaffney Chicago Medical Center, portrayed a scenario that was both completely unrealistic and showed assisted reproductive technology and surrogacy in an extremely negative light.

In a nutshell, the plot line has a pregnant woman showing up in the ER with symptoms of pre-eclampsia, a life-threatening condition that, if left untreated, can lead to organ damage. The doctor wants to induce delivery early, at 32 weeks, in order to protect the woman’s health. She resists, explaining that she is a surrogate, and that under the terms of the surrogacy agreement she will not receive her bonus payment unless she carries the baby to term. The loss of that payment, she explains, means she and her two existing sons will wind up back in the homeless shelter. She is finally persuaded to deliver the baby early rather than risk orphaning her sons.

As it turns out, the four-pound infant is healthy despite the premature birth. But the intended parents still refuse to accept parental responsibility for the newborn. It’s a melodramatic plot twist, complete with evil villains exploiting innocent victims, and that makes for great TV.

In real life… never happen!

First of all, in any surrogacy arranged via an agency, intended parents, surrogate and even the surrogate’s spouse or significant other are scrupulously vetted. Terms of the surrogacy agreement are carefully negotiated so that all parties understand their rights and obligations.

In addition to a physical health exam, the surrogate in this scenario would have been required to undergo psychological and mental health screenings. Her living and financial situation would have been investigated—a woman living with her two children in a homeless shelter receiving government assistance or whose household income fell below the federal poverty line would never have been approved—for the very reason this episode attempts to convey!

Nothing evokes public passion like the abuse or abandonment of an innocent child, particularly a frail one. The garish headlines that pop up every so often about Western intended parents who pay poor women in places like Mexico or Thailand to be surrogates, only to later shirk their responsibilities for one reason or another, trigger public outrage. A brisk “surrogacy tourism” business has developed, in part due to high costs or overly restrictive laws that force intended parents to seek foreign surrogates, a sometimes risky proposition. (Recently it appears this trend may be in decline, since authorities have been cracking down or banning surrogacy in some more suspect or high-risk environments).

But surrogacy in the United States is a much different environment: Although surrogates and their families may benefit financially, agencies take care to screen out women who seek to become surrogates out of any semblance of financial desperation.

On very rare occasions, intended parents do abandon their children born via surrogacy, just as parents by any means sometimes abandon their children. Truth is, bad people sometimes become parents, and sometimes they abandon their babies. Our court system is full of cases of parents who neglect, abuse or abandon their children. My personal experience tells me that parents via surrogacy are far less likely to abandon their babies, because the arduous process of creating a family via surrogacy naturally weeds out those who are unwilling or unprepared to become parents. To have a child via assisted reproductive technology requires determination, perseverance and a significant financial commitment; most ART children are long hoped for and much wanted.

But when a parent via surrogacy abandons a child, that case is much more likely to make the headlines than all the other cases of child abuse and neglect that clog our court system. Unfortunately that casts surrogacy in a negative light. In the rare event such a case arises out of surrogacy, there is a governmental system of child protection and rescue and termination of parental rights. Both kinds of cases should be dealt with the same way via the same system, after the child is born, and only if and when the parents behave badly. 

It’s just a TV show, right? Sure, but scenarios like that depicted on Chicago Med reach millions of people with a message that surrogacy is exploitative, intended parents behave selfishly and irresponsibly, and agencies are unethical, profit-taking machines. The “Inheritance” episode plays right into the organized political and religiously based opposition to surrogacy and other forms of ART. As we wrote earlier, that organized opposition works hand-in-hand with those opposed to a woman’s right to choose and other social conservatives.

The true story is that most intended parents engaging in surrogacy are deeply caring individuals who want to become biological parents badly enough to invest large sums of time, money and emotion into the effort. The true story is that most surrogates agree to carry someone’s child in order to give the gift of parenthood to someone who otherwise might never experience that joy. The true story is that most agencies are ethical and stringent about prescreening of surrogates and donors and meticulous in matching surrogates and IPs. Chicago Med, in its scurrilous depiction of a surrogate driven by desperation and uncaring biological parents, is an insult to all of them and represents a step backward as society grows in its understanding and acceptance of the life-giving miracle of ART. 


Rich Vaughn
Richard Vaughn

Attorney Rich Vaughn is founder and principal of International Fertility Law Group, one of the world’s largest and best-known law firms focused exclusively on assisted reproductive technology, or ART, including in vitro fertilization (IVF), surrogacy, sperm donation or egg donation. Rich is co-author of the book “Developing A Successful Assisted Reproduction Technology Law Practice,” American Bar Association Publishing, 2017.

Peiya Wang
Paralegal (律师助理)

Peiya Wang joined IFLG as a paralegal in 2015, where she manages surrogacy, egg donation and parental establishment cases and provides translation services for many of IFLG’s international clients. Peiya received her bachelor’s degree from Beijing Technologies and Business University, where she majored in Marketing. She moved to the United States in 2012 to attend Northeast University in Boston, Massachusetts, receiving a Master of Science degree in Global Studies and International Affairs in 2014. Peiya moved to Los Angeles in 2015 and received her paralegal certification from UCLA Extension. When away from the office, Peiya is a dragon boat paddler and a ballroom dancer, where she favors Rumbas and Cha-chas. She is fluent in Mandarin and English.

Luis Sosa

Luis R. Sosa joined IFLG as a paralegal in 2016, where he enjoys pursuing his passion for family and reproductive law. While working toward his bachelor’s degree at Florida International University, Luis worked as a paralegal and legal assistant for family law litigation firms in Miami and Washington, D.C. As a paralegal and case manager for IFLG, Luis, who is bilingual in English and Spanish, manages surrogacy, egg donation and other reproductive law cases. In addition to spending time with husband Randy and dog Marty, Luis enjoys being outdoors and appreciating the arts.

Toni Hughes

After receiving her B.S. in Business Management, Toni joined IFLG to pursue her dream of working in the legal field. As a Paralegal with over 10 years of experience in the assisted reproduction technology field, Toni is our Managing Paralegal, responsible for training and managing our paralegal staff. From drafting legal documents to assisting our clients with post-birth matters, Toni embraces the challenge of learning something new in this field each day. Besides spending time with her son, Jordan, Toni enjoys exploring new things, cooking, spending time with family and friends, and serving as a Youth Advisor for “Next Generation.”

Miesha Cowart
Financial Coordinator

Miesha Cowart joined IFLG as a financial specialist in 2014 following a successful career in development and business finance. Miesha previously worked for 10 years in the construction industry as a controller and for 13 years as Development Coordinator for the non-profit U.S. Fund for UNICEF. In her free time, Miesha works with “Next Generation” at her church. “They are my heartbeats!” she says of the youth in her community.


Kim has over 25 years of experience in the legal field and has worked exclusively in surrogacy and assisted reproduction law since 1999. Kim is a senior case manager of surrogacy and egg donation cases, and is also responsible for managing parental establishment cases and interacting with IFLG’s Of Counsel attorneys across the country. With three children of her own, Kim understands the importance of family and finds working in this area of law a rewarding experience.

Rich Vaughn

Attorney Rich Vaughn combined his personal passion as a father of twin boys born via assisted reproductive technology (ART) with more than 20 years of experience in business and technology law to build International Fertility Law Group. Today IFLG is one of the most successful and best-known law firms in the world focused exclusively on fertility law, helping thousands of intended parents through empathetic listening, compassionate guidance, and unmatched legal expertise. As an advocate for reproductive freedom, Rich also contributes his knowledge and time to improving the understanding and practice of ART law, most recently as a founder of and speaker at the first Cambridge University International Surrogacy Symposium held in June 2019, as immediate past chair of the American Bar Association ART Committee, and as a popular presenter to law schools, faculty and advocacy organizations all over the world.

Elizabeth Tamayo

Elizabeth received her Bachelors of Science degree in Criminal Justice from California State University of Los Angeles. Shortly after graduating, she continued her education at the University of California, Los Angeles where she obtained her Paralegal certificate. Elizabeth is fluent in Spanish and has been in the legal field since 2009. She is excited to be a part of the IFLG Team helping families realize their dreams.

Sunny Chien

Sunny joined IFLG as a paralegal in 2017, where she manages surrogacy, egg donation and parental establishment cases for many of IFLG’s international clients. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy from California State University of Los Angeles, where she graduated cum laude. Sunny is bilingual in English and Mandarin and has extensive experience as a legal assistant and paralegal at Los Angeles-area law firms. She is excited to be part of the IFLG team. In her spare time, Sunny enjoys spending time with her family and their dog, going to the beach, cooking, and being outdoors.

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Molly O'Brien

Fertility law attorney Molly O’Brien began working in the field of assisted reproduction technology (ART) in 2005, at an egg donation agency and a surrogacy agency where she became familiar with all aspects of in-vitro fertilization, egg donation and the financial aspects of surrogacy. Since becoming an attorney in 2011, Molly has drafted and negotiated surrogacy, egg donation, sperm donation embryo donation agreements for hundreds of her clients all over the world.