In India, there's big money in wombs

Some say it's only a matter of time before people "smell the money" of reproductive outsourcing.

By Tracy Clark-Flory
Published March 10, 2008 10:20PM (EDT)

Here comes yet another article about India's booming "womb rental" business that will have you attempting to calculate the moral equivalent of the E8 root system (i.e. one of the tougher math problems known to man). Of course, this is a familiar problem for Broadsheet readers -- but the article by Amelia Gentleman introduces still more vivid variables.

Yonatan Gher and his partner, who live in Israel, would like to raise a child together -- but it's illegal for same-sex couples to hire surrogate mothers in the country. Just as an increasing number of Western couples are doing, the men turned to India's reproductive outsourcing industry. They picked out an egg donor online (they chose a housewife in Mumbai over a factory worker, figuring that her lifestyle was less stressful), had her egg fertilized by one of the men's sperm and will have the embryo implanted in another woman's womb (so as to avoid the surrogate's developing an attachment to a biological baby). "People can believe me when I say that if I could bear the baby myself I would," says Gher. "But this is a mutually beneficial answer. The surrogate gets a fair amount of money for being part of the process."

Just how much money, you might ask? Roughly $7,500, a quarter of the $30,000 charged by the clinic. (Clinics in the United States charge roughly three times that.) Given the overall price paid, that seems a small sum -- but, there's no denying that it is a life-changing amount for India's poor. A 32-year-old surrogate in New Delhi told the Times that she was able to by a house with the $13,600 she earned from her first surrogacy; she plans to become a surrogate once more so that she can pay for her 9-year-old son's education. "This is as much money as they could earn in maybe three years," says Kaushal Kadam of Mumbai's Rotunda, the Center for Human Reproduction. "I really don't think that this is exploiting the women. I feel it is two people who are helping out each other."

The familiar criticism leveled at India's reproductive outsourcing -- that it takes advantage of the country's desperately poor women -- is a concern held even by some within the industry. Rudy Rupak, co-founder and president of "medical tourism portal" PlanetHospital, says, "Inevitably, people are going to smell the money, and unscrupulous operators will get into the game." But even without unscrupulous operators, the radical class divide is disturbing. Gentleman offers one of the better illustrations of that disparity that I've seen: "On some contracts, the thumbprint of an illiterate surrogate stands out against the clients' signatures."

Tracy Clark-Flory

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