Currently more than 50 women in India are pregnant with babies conceived through in-vitro fertilization. Parents have come from all over the world in search of a family. The surrogates are paid, the baby is delivered. Is this a win/win situation for all?
India has a well earned reputation for being host to many an outsourced job. Computer repair, technical support, accounting and engineering just to name a few.
There is currently another growing industry being outsourced to India. Namely clinics offering barren couples the opportunity to rent a "womb". These clinics are becoming home to an ever growing number of young women, anxious for the opportunity to trade their ability to carry a much desired child in exchange for the cash that will change their entire futures. Childless couples are flocking to India to obtain the services of these ready and willing women.
The women, many whom average $25.00 per week working regular jobs, are being paid as much as $4,500 per pregnancy. As the demand increases, so does the list of women offering their bodies as surrogates.
Anand, India is home to the Akansha Infertility Clinic which currently houses 15 pregnant women. Run by Dr. Nayna H. Patel, it boasts on it's website that is has more than 150IVF babies and 600 IUI babies to its credit. And that is as of 2006.
The rented home that houses the surrogates offers a full staff of maids, cooks and doctors that attend to the women on a daily basis. Meals are balanced, vitamins administered daily, the ultrasounds are taken and the pregnancies are carefully monitored until the time of birth.
The surrogate mothers and the parents sign a contract that promises the couple will cover all medical expenses as well s the woman's payment, and the surrogate mother will hand over the baby after birth. The couples fly to Anand for the in-vitro fertilization and again for the birth. Most couples end up paying the clinic less than $10,000 for the entire procedure, including fertilization, the fee to the mother and medical expenses. A fee which falls far below that of the cost in the Unites States and other countries more prosperous than that of India.
Ritu Sodhi, a furniture importer from Los Angeles who was born in India, spent $200,000 trying to get pregnant through in-vitro fertilization, and was considering spending another $80,000 to hire a surrogate mother in the United States."We were so desperate," she said. "It was emotionally and financially exhausting."Then, on the Internet, Sodhi found Dr. Nayna Patel's clinic.
After spending about $20,000, which was considerably more than many couples spend due to the fact that it took the surrogate mother several cycles to conceive, Sodhi and her husband are now back home with their 4-month-old baby, Neel. They plan to return to Anand for a second child."Even if it cost $1 million, the joy that they had delivered to me is so much more than any money that I have given them," said Sodhi. "They're godsends to deliver something so special."The women feel happy about the services they are offering. They are careful to tell themselves that the child they are carrying is not their own, and those that are now playing surrogate for a 2nd time insist that they have no problem with turning over the baby once it is born.
Counseling is a major part of the process at the Anand clinic, and the women are instructed to think of the pregnancy as "someone's child comes to stay at your place for nine months."
Kailas Gheewala, 25, said she doesn't think of the pregnancy as her own."The fetus is theirs, so I'm not sad to give it back," said Gheewala, who plans to save the $6,250 she's earning for her two daughters' education. "The child will go to the U.S. and lead a better life and I'll be happy."Proponents of the outsourcing of pregnancy see no problem with it. They consider it a win/win for all involved. The infertile couple gets a baby, the surrogate receives more money than she would earn in a lifetime.
At the Anand clinic, an ever rotating cast of surrogate mothers live together in a rented home, and are overseen by a former surrogate mother. Their children and husbands visit them each day, when they're not busy with English or computer classes."They feel like my family," said Rubina Mandul, 32, the surrogate house's den mother. "The first 10 days are hard, but then they don't want to go home."Mandul, who has two sons of her own, gave birth to a child for an American couple in February. She said she misses the baby, but she stays in touch with the parents over the Internet. A photo of the American couple with the child hangs over the sofa."They need a baby more than me," she said.Dr. Nayna Patel, the woman behind the Anand clinic, defends her work as meaningful for everyone involved.
"There is this one woman who desperately needs a baby and cannot have her own child without the help of a surrogate. And at the other end there is this woman who badly wants to help her (own) family," Patel said. "If this female wants to help the other one ... why not allow that? ... It's not for any bad cause. They're helping one another to have a new life in this world."
Critics however see the situation differently. They feel that these women are being exploited by hiring them at a cut-rate fee to undergo the hardship, pain and risks of pregnancy, labor and delivery."It raises the factor of baby farms in developing countries," said Dr. John Lantos of the Center for Practical Bioethics in Kansas City, Mo. "It comes down to questions of voluntariness and risk." Although India suffers from an alarmingly high maternal death rate it doesn't seem to matter.
One thing the Anand clinic is not lacking are volunteers. Many of the mothers know one another, some are even related. Three sisters have all given birth to strangers' children, and their sister-in-law is pregnant with a second surrogate baby. Nearly half the babies have been born to foreign couples while the rest have stayed within India.
People apparently are more willing to accept a practice that was once considered abnormal, immoral or distasteful.
India is anticipating a surge in growth of this industry, as more and more couples seek out the services of these ready, willing and able young women. Commercial surrogacy has been legal in India since 2002, as it is in many other countries, including the United States. But India is the leader in making it a viable industry rather than a rare fertility treatment. Experts say it could take off for the same reasons outsourcing in other industries has been so successful in India, namely a wide labor pool willing to work for relatively low rates.
As the trend grows, however, there is the very realistic fear that competition may begin to compromise the health of the mothers and the babies themselves.
Imagine clinics springing up throughout India, offering fewer fees, resulting in compromised health procedures. The risks involved by those that choose to shop for the "cheapest price" could be disastrous.
One can also imagine those of wealth and prestige in the West opting to simply "hire out" the job of pregnancy, finding it much easier. No stretch marks, labor pains or sagging breasts following the birth.
Will it eventually come down to money, those that have plenty getting the healthy babies, while those that so strongly desire a family, but lack the adequate resources to seek out the best settling for the "sale" rack, deciding they'll take their chances that everything will work out in the end?
A USA Today article on this same topic makes no mention of pregnancies gone wrong, infants born with defects or malformations. What happens to those babies? Are the parents obligated to bring home a less than perfect child, the child they paid for, are they allowed to simply walk away saying "no thanks. I'll pass".