Today new technologies have taken the sex out of the act of “making babies”. Now all you need is a credit card. Instructions can be found on YouTube.
Google Baby, HBO’s gripping 2010 documentary on surrogacy begins with this brutal line.
An Israeli gay couple has just bought home a surrogate baby—Talia’s so cute, friends want one too. Yet, most of them can’t afford the $100,000 (around Rs 44.7 lakh) that Doron Mamet and his partner paid for the procedure in the US. That makes Mamet wonder if there’s an outsourcing opportunity.
Baby boomers: Surrogates line up at Patel’s clinic in Anand, Gujarat. Vijayanand Gupta/Hindustan Times
The film tracks him as he turns entrepreneur, sourcing eggs from women in the US and FedEx-ing them to surrogacy star Dr Nayna Patel in Anand, Gujarat to produce babies at a fraction of what he paid for Talia.
Towards the end of the film, he abruptly switches allegiances to a clinic in Mumbai, possibly because most Indian surrogacy centres are not LGBT friendly. These days Mamet’s organization Tammuz works with Dr Hrishikesh Pai in Mumbai.
Also read | Priya Ramani’s earlier columns
Google Baby’s opening shot of Patel, in a fire engine red sari with a matching sleeveless blouse, telling an international caller that she doesn’t have surrogates, that there’s a big waitlist, that perhaps they can give “simple IVF” a shot, certainly leaves an impression.
These days the business of ART (assisted reproductive technology) grows more furiously than the bounty of hormone-induced eggs retrieved from a young, healthy donor. There’s certainly enough interest in the subject. Made in India, another film that’s been winning awards on the documentary circuit, also outlines the issues of cross-border surrogacy without passing judgement on whether it’s right or wrong. Some experts estimate that surrogacy is now a $450 million business here. Delhi-based fertility expert Dr Shivani Sachdev Gour says her business has risen tenfold in the last year from two cases a month to 20 cases now.
I began thinking of surrogacy when I met Swiss film-maker Barbara Kulcsar, on a recce trip for a feature film inspired by the story of Baby Manji.
Kulcsar was working on a documentary about the alternative creation of a family, telling the story of people such as the young woman who is the child of an anonymous sperm donor. “I wanted to explore on one hand how far people go for their wish for a child, and on the other hand how these so-desired children feel towards their roots,” she says.
That’s when she read about Japanese surrogate baby Manji whose parents were divorced before she was born in India. The Supreme Court eventually granted Manji’s grandmother custody of the baby.
Kulcsar even made the trip to Anand to meet Patel at whose clinic Manji was born.
Google Baby’s Patel is a multitasker. She stitches up a C-section delivery (all surrogate deliveries at her clinic are Caesareans so the baby’s international parents can time their pick-up perfectly) while talking on her cellphone. The camera pans to the tears in the surrogate mother’s eyes as she gives up the baby she carried for eight months.
Yet Patel has a good reputation in surrogacy circles. She’s one of the more responsible doctors who offer surrogacy as an infertility option. She views herself as a feminist who’s helping women change their lives. She doesn’t mince words when explaining the procedure to women who want to rent their wombs for the current rate of about Rs 3.5 lakh a pregnancy: “There’s a chance the pregnancy may not go well. That you may have to have your uterus removed. If you die we’re not responsible. You will have no rights over the baby.” You can’t get clearer than that.
The women say they will use the money to educate their children, to buy a house. One surrogate’s husband is excited about the new house they have managed to buy. “I will have to send her again,” he says. “I want to make my son an army officer—not on the border with a gun but in a desk job.” It would be funny if it weren’t so depressing.
They say couples that can’t have babies will do anything for one. Without picking sides on the surrogacy debate, I must say I’m always amazed by the tenacity people display in the effort to have their “own” baby. They try once, twice, three times, and keep trying—even halfway across the world—until they get their 6 pounds of flesh. Four months ago, the husband and I chose to adopt a baby girl.
Ironically, the laws that govern adoption are much stricter than the rules for surrogacy. In one undated interview on a medical tourism website, Dr Gautam Allahbadia, an ART expert and director of Rotunda, a Mumbai infertility clinic, points out reassuringly that anyway, “medico-legal problems or litigations are infrequent. This is not a litigious society.”
The unbelievably vague Indian Council of Medical Research guidelines, conjured in a world when surrogacy was a stillborn industry, can be summed up in one page. The new draft ART Bill cleared by the health ministry is currently being reviewed by the law ministry. Who knows when it will be introduced in Parliament.
Kulcsar says her recent trip to India made her think a lot about the issue. “It was very interesting to see, that the Western point of view is always about us exploiting the poor, whereas the Indian focus is about possibilities for them. In India the focus is more on the financial benefit for the surrogates than on the possible psychological trauma we always point our finger at,” she says. Think about it.
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