NEW DELHI, India — Gestational surrogacy -surrogacy where the intended mother or donor provides an egg which is fertilized through IVF and then placed inside a surrogate mother- has recently become more and more of an option for many couples who cannot conceive. In return, the couples are supposed to compensate the surrogate mother with living expenses, good medical care and additional fees.
This type of commercial surrogacy has grown extremely popular, especially in India, where it became legal in 2002. While it was at first treated as shameful by Indian women, now many are turning to surrogacy in order to make money.
Since commercial surrogacy has become popular, there are not many specific statistics on how many women become surrogates. As of 2012, there were more than 3,000 fertility clinics in India. Each year, the surrogacy business collects approximately $400 million, and an estimated 25,000 foreign couples visit India for commercial surrogacy services, resulting in over 2,000 births.
At first glance, commercial surrogacy seems beneficial for all parties involved. Many foreigners -from Americans to Australians to Japanese- travel to Indian clinics because the average cost of commercial surrogacy in India is $25,000-$30,000, much less than the up to $100,000 that it costs in America. Surrogate mothers are paid $5,000-$7,000, and supporters of commercial surrogacy advocate for it because it allows many Indian women to earn much more money than they would doing traditional jobs, such as farming. While farming might help the women earn $1-$2 a day, commercial surrogacy allows them to collect a much greater amount of money. The majority of Indian surrogate mothers use that money to provide for the education of their own children or to purchase a new house.
However, India’s commercial surrogacy market has a dark side. Indian laws restrict the availability of surrogacy. In 2013, India passed a law that banned singles and same sex couples from hiring surrogates. The law only allows ‘traditional couples’ between the ages of 21 and 35 to be a part of the commercial surrogacy services.
In addition, commercial surrogacy poses many risks to the surrogate mother. The majority of surrogates are driven to become surrogate mothers because of unemployment and poverty. Eighty-six percent of mothers in the Indian region of Surat became surrogates due to poverty. Many surrogate mothers are illiterate and forced to sign contracts they do not understand, and they are consequently unaware of the fact that several embryos may be transferred at a time. In one case, as many as seven embryos were transferred to a surrogate mother. This high number of embryos increases the mother’s risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, and post-partum bleeding. Another consequence of this is that since a western couple may only want one child from the surrogate mother, if multiple children are born, the remaining babies are sold in a parallel black market illegally for adoption by other western couples.
There is no fixed rate of pay for the amount of money surrogate mothers receive, so many women are not given the compensation that they have been promised. Doctors in charge of surrogacy clinics also often treat their clinics more like a business than a hospital, performing C-sections even when unnecessary in order to maximize the number of babies born.
Right now, there’s no way to tell how many surrogate mothers actually benefit from surrogacy. India may be going down the same road as Thailand, where commercial surrogacy was banned in early 2015 after many scandals, including when an Australian couple left a baby with downs syndrome behind with his surrogate mother. Unless proper regulations are established, commercial surrogacy is most likely not going to beneficial to all parties involved.
– Ashrita Rau
Sources: Stanford University, The Borgen Project, CNN, Reuters, ABC 1, ABC 2, The Atlantic, The New York Times, PBS, BBC, The Independent, Daily Mail, Business Insider, Time