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Outsourcing Babies: The Indian Boom

First it was software, then it was back office jobs. Now, thanks to excellent facilities in India available at a fraction of the cost in the West, infertile parents are outsourcing the tough business of making babies — including in vitro fertilization and surrogacy — to India, writes Priyanka Bhardwaj.

Over a period of time India has established itself as a global medical outsourcing destination due to cheaper but high-quality treatment facilities.

A new segment growing at a quick pace is biological process outsourcing or simply put, making healthy babies, in a less expensive way via genetic pool banks and in-vitro fertilization methods.

Reproductive tourism based on ART — assisted reproductive technology — is wooing a niche group of foreigners and non resident Indian’s alike.

It is a combo-pack of relatively low cost medical services, easy availability of surrogate wombs, abundant choices of donors with similar racial attributes and, paradoxically, lack of adequate laws to regulate these practices that is drawing couples from the West.

Today the overall assisted baby making business in India is estimated to be worth Rs. 250 billion with over 200,000 clinics offering IVF, artificial insemination and surrogacy facilities.

“First it was the software services and now it is the birth of babies that is being outsourced to India,” a senior gynecologist based in Kolkata quipped.

A World Health Organization estimate says that there are over 60-80 million childless couples in the world leading to a burgeoning demand for children through ART procedures.

Couples from many countries today visit India to attain parenthood via IVF and surrogacy. Hopeful parents arrive from the U.S., the U.K., Israel, Philippines and Canada, among others.

The waiting list back in their countries are as long as 3-4 years, with India offering a quick fix to this emotionally fraught, perceived deficiency.

To be sure, there is money to be saved.

In the U.S., U.K. and Australia the entire surrogacy process may cost more than $100,000, whereas in India, about $25,000 could suffice for the procedure and cycle --- doctor and legal fees, surrogacy work up and compensation, antenatal care, delivery, drugs, consumables, and IVF costs.

Cutting-edge medical technology, expertise and highly qualified medical personnel provide state-of-the-art facilities, luring clients with handsome packages of frozen embryo transfer (FET) and surrogacy arrangements in ART facilities.

Poverty, recession and a way to earn an extra buck in times of recession and job losses are an incentive to the surrogate mothers who donate their eggs or rent out their wombs.

With no communication between the wannabe parents and the baby carrier, emotional issues are carefully avoided.

Artist’s impression of a fertilized ovum.

According to some observers, the ongoing economic meltdown has seen the number of educated and middle class surrogate mothers increase by 15-20 percent to supplement their family incomes.

Since white-collar workers are aware of income opportunities and medical advancements, they are more open to help infertile couples for compensation as the job scenario turns bleak.

In the U.S., students reportedly make $5,000 to $30,000 by donating eggs, which pays for their tuition fees.

Indeed, successful baby stories now abound in India.

Recently, an Israeli gay couple in Mumbai described it as a win-win situation for both themselves (the egg was donated by an unknown woman) and the surrogate mother.

There is the instance of a well to do white collar couple, who on condition of anonymity, revealed that due to demanding jobs they are looking to outsource “pregnancy and delivery,” and are on the lookout for an educated and healthy mother, perhaps someone who has lost her job in the current economic debacle.

They plan to pay the surrogate mother nearly Rs 300,000 along with expenses incurred on groceries and medicines, for nine months.

This sum can be a handsome amount for many, considering the average per capita income in India is $500. Yet, it is much cheaper than hiring a surrogate mother in the West, where the price tag could reach $40,000-50,000 in some countries.

A Web designer (name withheld on request) recently donated her eggs to an infertile couple being treated at the Delhi IVF and Fertility Research Center in Delhi for $5,000.

She said that while her husband is scouting investors to diversify his business, she is enabling infertile couples to have babies and making money.

However, there are issues to be resolved.

Last August the case of Manji Yamada baby, born to an Indian surrogate mother, whose Japanese parents split before his birth, highlighted the need of a legal framework to regulate such practices.

A draft ART Regulatory Bill 2008, introduced by the Indian Council of Medical Research is awaiting passage by the Indian Parliament.

The text, which is open for public review, reveals that it will address the rights of the child, surrogate mother, adopting parents and record keeping, sex determination, right to information of various parties, pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, research on embryos and various other aspects.

In the final analysis, it is beneficial for all concerned parties if the interests of the baby, the rights of the surrogate mother and the role of adopting parents are legally delineated.

Ethical, legal, epidemiological, genetic, social, religious, economical and emotional issues need further empirical evaluation and assessment.

Besides, an awareness of success and failures of such procedures should help towards a proper review of the issues involved.

It is also not yet clear whether insurance companies would cover for such medical needs.

While single parents, gay couples and those afflicted with primary causes of infertility surely benefit by such arrangements, a clearer regulatory and legal framework will provide an enabling environment where all parties know exactly where they stand.

Priyanka Bhardwaj is a freelance journalist based in New Delhi.


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