India: Women Exploited in Surrogacy Pregnancy Contracts

Opinion   |   Rebecca Taylor   |   Sep 8, 2011   |   12:37PM   |   Washington, DC

It has become more common place that infertile couples are using IVF to create embryos and then hiring surrogate mothers to carry those embryos.

Most surrogacy agreements require payment to the surrogate mother which can cost anywhere from $30,000 to $100,000 USD.  Western couples are looking for cheaper options.  Many are now turning to women from third world countries to carry their IVF embryos.

A new book by Scott Carney called the The Red Market: On the Trail of the World’s Organ Brokers, Bone Thieves, Blood Farmers, and Child Traffickers takes a critical look at international surrogacy especially in India.

After Oprah did a whole show on a Western couple’s use of an Indian surrogate through Dr. Nayna Patel’s surrogacy service at the Akanksha Fertility Clinic in Anand, India, the waiting list for Dr. Patel’s services is now in the hundreds.  The Oprah show painted the surrogacy arrangement as a win-win for both the Indian woman and the Western couple.  The couple gets a baby and the Indian surrogate gets more money that she could earn in a lifetime.

International surrogacy may look all sparklely and clean on the outside but Carney looks closer at Patel’s clinic.  He reports that surrogates there are kept under lock and key for the entire pregnancy.  They are often forced to deliver by C-section even though C-sections carry a double to quadruple risk of death during childbirth.  Indian surrogates are paid much less than their Western counterparts.  While an American surrogate would get 50-75% of the total fees, and Indian surrogate receives only 25%.

Carney points out that due to the lure of easy money, some surrogates are pressured into it by their families.  He recounts the story of a young woman named Easwari, who died after giving birth at a surrogacy clinic in Coimbatore in 2009.  She was pressured by her husband Murugan to make the family extra money after he had seen ads in the local newspaper calling for surrogates.

Carney also discusses the practice of “selective reduction” that goes on in Patel’s clinic.  Selective reduction is a euphemistic term referring to the killing of one or more multiple fetuses in the womb.  He reports that Patel’s clinic often implants as many as five embryos at a time and writes:

Several of the surrogates I met in Anand were pregnant with twins.  In cases where three or more embryos take, the Askanska clinic selectively aborts specific embryos to bring the total down to a more manageable levels.  They do this often without asking permission of the intended parents or the surrogates.

Carney’s coverage of international surrogacy illustrates how children and their production has become more of a commercial enterprise than a gift from God.  Using international surrogates is not just about getting a baby on the cheap, it is also about quality control.  Quality control of the woman and her uterus.  Carney recounts the words of Ester Cohen, an American woman who decided to use an Indian surrogate instead of an American one because an Indian woman is easier to control.  Cohen said:

When I was told by my doctor they could get someone in Stockton, I don’t know what they are eating, what they are doing.  Their physical environment would have been a concern for me.  The way they have things set up [in India] is that the surrogate’s sole purpose is to carry a healthy baby for someone.

Maybe that is a surrogate’s “sole purpose” in Ms. Cohen’s estimation, but I am certain these women’s live have much more purpose than just to be rented by a wealthy Westerner.  There is no doubt that these woman are being exploited and their beings reduced to a womb for hire.  Even though they are being paid, they are profoundly affected emotionally having to give up a child they carried and nurtured in their bodies.  Cohen recounts the experience when she got her daughter Daniella from the surrogate Saroj:

There was an intensity in her eyes.  It was hard for her, and you could see how much she cared for Daniella.

One surrogate on Oprah’s show expressed her pain as quoted by Biopolitical Times:

Another says that she will find it difficult to give up the baby she is carrying. “It is up to the child to remember us,” she says. “We will remember the child for the rest of our lives.”

The Catholic Church rejects all surrogacy because it reduces procreation to a contractual business.   Surrogacy is immoral because it denies the child the right to be conceived by an act of love between its genetic father and mother and gestated by its genetic mother.  The child is treated like a commodity that the surrogate is paid to gestate and deliver.  The surrogate mother is also treated as a biological commodity, as a place to gestate a child for money.  It is naturally exploitive to both the child and the surrogate no matter how much money changes hands.  I would say the more money, the more exploitive surrogacy gets.

Carney quotes Usha Smerdon who runs Ethica, an adoption reform group:

Surrogacy is a form of labor.  But its an exploitative one, similar to child labor and sweat shops driven by Western consumerism….  I challenge the notion…that hospitals are operating above board when driven by a profit motive. Note: Rebecca Taylor is a clinical laboratory specialist in molecular biology, and a practicing pro-life Catholic who writes at the bioethics blog Mary Meets Dolly. She has been writing and speaking about Catholicism and biotechnology for five years and has been interviewed on EWTN radio on topics from stem cell research and cloning to voting pro-life. Taylor has a B.S. in Biochemistry from University of San Francisco with a national certification in clinical Molecular Biology MB (ASCP).