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Rent-a-womb turning into multi-million industry

Reproductive tourism booming in India, where costs are lower

Pregnant teenager
Image Credit: Gulf News archive
Surrogate motherhood, also known as “reproductive tourism”, has become a booming business in India. Image for illustrative purposes only.
Gulf News

New Delhi: Even as most people feel that the best and the most fun way to make a baby is inside a bedroom, more and more are seeking awareness of exploring “other ways” to procreate. And with women increasingly choosing to marry late, there is a definite growth in reasons that fuel surrogacy as the “popular other way”.

It is a medically proven fact that the best child-bearing ages for both men and women are in their late 20s and early 30s. With age, the ovulation process starts to slow down. For many couples who get married in their later years, surrogacy is one of the best options in case they fail to conceive naturally.

“These days professional agencies help you understand the concept of surrogacy in no time. Indeed the agencies are quite helpful as they educate you on both legal and medical aspects of surrogacy”
-Gujarat-based Rucha Sharma
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And as is the case of most celebrity endorsements, this trend too owes its popularity to film stars. Thanks to actor Aamir Khan and his wife Kiran Rao celebrating the birth of their son Azaad who was born via surrogacy, things are changing indeed.

Surrogate motherhood, also known as “reproductive tourism”, has become a booming business in India, fast growing into a multi-million industry wherein it is a win-win situation - the surrogate mother gets money and hapless couples who want children, get babies.

Basically, surrogacy can be a God-sent option for women having trouble conceiving. The procedure uses In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) technology, except for the fact that the embryo is planted in the uterus of a surrogate mother, who can successfully carry the pregnancy to term.

“The technique was known to me and my husband. We were aware of in vitro fertilisation. Moreover, these days professional agencies help you understand the concept of surrogacy in no time. Indeed the agencies are quite helpful as they educate you on both legal and medical aspects of surrogacy. I found out about the option of surrogacy from a newspaper and we decided to go for it immediately. The process is really easy and hassle free,” says Gujarat-based Rucha Sharma who could not conceive due to fibroids in the uterus.

“Many couples fail to have a child even after all treatment options fail due to unhealthy uterus. In such condition, the biological parents can opt to get their own embryo to be transferred to a woman with healthy uterus, so as to allow the foetus to grow. In all ways, it is their own child, but the woman who agrees to nourish the child and carry for nine months becomes the surrogate mother, so that couple can have a baby,” Shivani Gour, Director of Surrogacy Centre India, told the Gulf News.

Surrogate mothers in India cost considerably lower, roughly about a fourth of what they would cost in the US. The cost of surrogacy in the US is approximately $50,000 to 100,000 whereas in India, it costs anywhere between $3,000 to $12,000.

Also surrogacy in India has fewer legal hassles and Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has set national guidelines to regulate it. Indian laws allow the surrogate mother to sign away her rights to the baby as soon as the baby is delivered.

In India, surrogacy has picked up all over Gujarat where Anand is considered the global surrogacy capital. Ahmedabad too caters to a big number of couples who medically need a womb to carry their child. In Anand, there are clinics and doctors completely dedicated to surrogacy. Here, a number of women from the lower income group have taken to surrogacy to solve their financial woes.

Experts agree that most of the demand for surrogates comes from Britain. There are almost 1,000 unregulated clinics in India in which most of them are specialised to help such people become parents.

According to Dr Shehbaaz Daruwala, Director, Pune Fertility Centre, Maharashtra, the trend of surrogacy has changed in India over the last 15 years.

“Although the concept of IVF or surrogacy has been around for quite some time yet the people coming to us were essentially foreigners or same sex couples. You can say that in a way Indians were not aware of it. With the advent of mass media, more and more curious couples are raising queries about surrogacy. However, we allow surrogate mothers only for those women who cannot carry a baby due to medical complications,” Daruwala says.

Importantly, legal and medical issues should be sorted before initiating the process of surrogacy.

“Anyone who elects to avail of surrogate services should first go to a doctor and undergo proper medical tests. Legal consultation is the next step wherein the lawyer must take care of the paperwork involving all possible legal angles. Afterwards, a legal document of the service is prepared, as to who would be the legal parents of the child,” Daruwala adds.

The surrogate mother and the couple are usually bound by a legal contract. The contract states that the surrogate mother will hand over the child to the parents after birth. On their part, the parents agree to pay for all the medical procedures and reimburse the surrogate mother. Most surrogate mothers think of themselves as sheltering another women’s child. They also believe that they are doing a good deed by helping another women enjoy the joys of motherhood. They focus on how the money will help their own family and children.

“I worked as sales executive in a multi-national company but they faced losses and I was asked to quit. My husband too under went losses in business. So much so that we were unable to take care of our minimal needs. So I decided to rent my womb. I got a good amount of money for rendering surrogacy services as I was not only healthy but educated as well,” said a surrogate mother from Vadodara.

Women and child rights activist Hemender says that more often than not, the surrogate mothers come from the lower rungs of society looking for monetary benefits. Couples are known to pay anywhere between Rs2,50,000 and Rs 400,000 to women who offer their wombs on rent to conceive and deliver the child.

“Though the process has numerous positive points to it, it raises a number of questions. First and foremost are the ethical factors. Pregnancy is a known health risk, especially in India where there is high infant mortality rate and pregnancy related deaths. Also pregnancy causes high physical and mental strain on the body. All this makes it difficult to think of commercial surrogacy as a simple and harmless practice where both parties are at gain,” Hemender questions.

“There is a need for the governments of both India and Western countries to build laws that will safeguard the parents and surrogate mother. Also with commercial surrogacy reaching industry proportions, there is a greater likelihood of medical negligence, as clinics will compete to provide lower costs, putting the health of the surrogate mother and child into danger,” he adds.

But Dr Sunita Tandulwadkar, IVF Head, Ruby Hall Clinic, feels that surrogacy is as good as having a normal child for any woman.

“The surrogate mother undergoes same kind of complications, as are faced during a normal pregnancy. In order to reduce complications during pregnancy, only young and healthy women are chosen as surrogate mothers,” she adds.

Indeed surrogate motherhood has its positive and negative factors. It is hard to take a stance for or against it. But what is immediately required are laws that will keep pace with the fast changing world, ensuring that all parties are at gain and preventing any form of exploitation.