Womb for Rent: India's Commercial Surrogacy

By Chang, Mina | Harvard International Review, Spring 2009 | Go to article overview

Womb for Rent: India's Commercial Surrogacy


Chang, Mina, Harvard International Review


As one of the world's leading outsourcing destinations, India capitalizes on its comparative advantages to play host to a variety of foreign service sectors. Bu t in addition to attracting commonplace jobs such as information technology (IT) services, India in recent years has seen a dramatic increase in its international surrogacy business, which serves foreign couples seeking surrogate mothers. Relative affordability combined with loose legal restrictions makes India an ideal choice for many prospective parents abroad, and the high rates of compensation for willing Indian birth mothers have created a growing pool of suppliers for the industry. Having legalized commercial surrogacy in 2002, India still grapples with a host of bioethical implications surrounding the industry. To deal with these issues, the country may need to develop a more nurturing system of legal monitoring and regulation.

The appeal of surrogacy in foreign countries like India is largely financial. While the costs of surrogacy--including medical treatment--add up to roughly US$70,000 in the United States, the same procedure costs one-seventh that price tag in India. The increasing number of Indians who speak English and the availability of advanced medical technology in India have made that nation stand out from other potential lower-cost countries.

The tempting salary has brought many willing Indian women from all regions of the country to fertility clinics in major cities. Agreeing to carry and deliver a baby may result in new houses, debt repayment, or even investments for their own children's future. Nine months of pregnancy could produce up to US$6,000, the equivalent of 15 years' wages for some, making surrogacy an attractive option for women from lower socio-economic levels. These demographic trends, however, have fueled concern that the new business may be just another form of class, gender, or race exploitation. Packaged as a cheap commodity, the procedure simply becomes a "womb for rent."

As a result of similar concerns, commercial surrogacy is banned in many countries, such as the United Kingdom and Australia. For those couples unable to find altruistic surrogate mothers in these nations, Indian fertility clinics may be the answer to the problems of starting a family. But making a profit from pregnancy naturally raises ethical concerns. In India these reproductive ethics are further complicated by questions of globalization and exploitation: is commercial surrogate motherhood oppression or opportunity? Outlawing surrogacy in 1991, France declared, "The human body is not lent out, is not rented out, and is not sold." But in India, many take a different stance, believing that that commercial surrogacy has a positive side because it results in mutual benefits that can change lives. …

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