NRI Pulse
Perspective

Take Home Baby

India is being dubbed the “Mother-destination” for the surrogacy business. Shahrukh Khan’s admission on the use of surrogacy to literally bring home his third child is news that throws light on this practice.

BY SUPRIYA D G

Celebrity endorsement on lifestyle is nothing new. A recent one includes the idea that one can create a child for a price. Shahrukh Khan’s admission on the use of surrogacy to literally bring home his third child is news that throws light on the practice that many other celebrity couples have already favored, notable among these being director/actor couple Kiran Rao and Aamir Khan. While the concept of surrogacy may not be a new one, after all history and mythology is replete with children born to a set of biological parents and raised by another set of foster parents, the emergence of what might be an industry albeit unregulated, has pointed to an urgent need to control it.

That this is a flourishing business that desperately needs regulation is undisputed. However, the ICMR’s (Indian Council of Medical Research) and the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MOHFW) drafted ART Bill (2009)(Assisted Reproductive Bill) is still awaiting approval. This Bill is contentious, and like the confusion surrounding Reproductive Rights, has been strongly critiqued by scholars, activists and NGOs working in the area of Reproductive Health. Public Apathy means that there is a danger that the Bill might favor the privileged few rather than prioritize the welfare of those who seek to provide their services for the much needed remuneration.

According to the ICMR estimate in 2002, there were over 30,000 infertility clinics in the country. That number has surely risen. According to an Economic Times Survey in 2008, the Surrogacy business is worth 445$ million in India, which is being dubbed the “Mother-destination”. An article in the Hindustan Times in 2006 puts the cost of an IVF cycle in the US at 20,000 $, 2000$ in India and 3.500£ in the UK. SAMA, a resource group for Women and Health, an NGO based in Delhi, states that the fee charged by a surrogate is between 8 and 10 Lakh Rupees. Currently there is no estimate on the number of surrogates as there is no registration, although Delhi is considered the prime destination by both NRI couples as well as foreigners, according to a survey by SAMA. A large number of agents between and surrogate and the clinics reveal the vast and complicated network of players that make it difficult to keep tabs on the workings of this business.

Kathleen Turner writes recently in the Washington Post that it is the military wives who primarily make up the surrogates. While the US is still debating the Bill on Surrogacy in the state of Louisiana, taboos associated with sex and reproduction might make it difficult to learn the nature and vulnerability of those who provide surrogate services and the extent of their exploitation here in India. Besides the ART Draft, the Law Commission of India’s report recommends legalizing surrogacy for altruistic reasons with a complete ban on commercial surrogacy. Whether this recommendation will be read along with the Bill is still an open question.

Reproductive rights & choice are probably a myth in India. This is evidenced by the fact that on one hand there is a near coercive family planning program instituted by the state and endorsed by the medical fraternity and, ironically, on the other hand the thriving infertility clinics that sell the idea of parenthood to childless couples. Moreover, a clause in the ART draft allows a potential surrogate up to four pregnancies as a surrogate, regardless of the number of children she already has.  Moreover, lack of communication between the surrogate and the medical team, means that a woman is often not told about the risks and the exhaustive procedures involved. Kept under strict surveillance, the surrogate might even stay away from her own family.

The cases of the Dan Goldberg twins, born to a surrogate and commissioned by gay couple from Israel as well as the case of Baby Manji, born to a surrogate, commissioned by a Japanese couple who later divorced thereby denying the baby the right to citizenship in Japan are indicative of the complexities that may be legal, social and personal. While these issues were eventually resolved, they have thrown open several questions that have remained unaddressed even otherwise, from who might enjoy maternity benefits to what kind of identity a child may construct of her/his origin. Although there are several reports that hormonal interventions have caused birth defects and premature babies, information on the risk to the surrogate and the foetus are not forthcoming. Calling themselves the Human Reproduction Centre, fertility clinics sell the idea of a successful take home baby. The very fact that the fertility business sells the idea of a biological offspring over adoption can mean that surrogacy will be a covert act rather than an act of freedom, reinforcing the idea of a normative family, a hetero-normative one at that in traditional societies.

Parenthood comes with strings attached. Attitudes towards both, the new mother, father as well as the child vary according to cultures. The experience of becoming a parent and giving birth are both unique and personal. Perhaps it is this that needs to be kept in mind while legalizing the use of this technology so that the choice and dignity of everyone becomes a matter of right and also informing the public, so that they may be amenable to a different form and definition of a family.

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