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Assisted Reproductive Technology

Surrogates in India May Get More Rights

One of the more recent trends for third-party reproduction, is to use a surrogate located in another country.  India is a popular choice as it’s only a small fraction of the price, compared to using an American surrogate.

In a recent Adoptive Families essay (India in My Heart), one woman shared her personal journey as to how she ended up using an Indian surrogate.  It’s not an easy route, but one that is being utilized more and more by couples from first-world nations.

In 2002, legalization of surrogacy was approved in India.  Most of the women who become surrogates are from poor families, and with one pregnancy earn enough money to support their family for a year or more. This has raised many ethical dilemmas.  Do these women truly understand what health risks they are being exposed to? Is this taking advantage of the poor?  Can an illiterate woman fully comprehend the ART process and her rights to the baby?

Up til now, India’s laws have not addressed directly the complexities of surrogacy, though an assisted reproductive technology bill is before Parliament and expected to be ratified by early next year. There are many laws to protect the contracting couple, but not many to protect the surrogates.

The new bill attempts to set regulations on the surrogacy clinics and their relationships with the prospective surrogate mothers.  For example, it says that only women between ages of 21 and 35 can be surrogates, and they can only contract their womb for surrogacy at 5 times maximum. 

Although these regulations are a step in the right direction, some experts do not think it’s enough.  They want the bill to have a limit on the number of assisted reproductive cycles a woman can experience, an important issue for the women’s health.

What are your thoughts on this topic?
Were you surprised to learn that there are not more legal rights to protect the Indian surrogate mothers?
Is it helping, or exploiting, these poor, uneducated women when they are used as surrogates for wealthy Americans?

AFC Community Moderator


I have never used surrogacy, so perhaps I just don’t “get it”, but personally, I consider use of international surrogates to have an extremely high risk of exploitation of vulnerable women.  In the U.S., we don’t allow prospective parents to bring pregnant women to this country to give birth and place their baby with them, because we believe it leads to coercion of the foreign women, who are low-income and uneducated.  In fact, such coercion has happened. 

The women were brought to this country by a facilitator and put up in a hotel.  They were given food, taken to medical appointments, and often taken on sightseeing trips.  Even though they had sincerely planned to relinquish the children at birth, when they actually delivered and saw their beautiful babies, they wanted to keep them.  In the U.S., we believe that is their right.

Unfortunately, the facilitators often got angry and told them that they were reneging on an agreement.  Holding on to the women’s passports, they told the women that they would no longer be responsible for them and their babies, and that they would have to pay their own way home.  They then left the women stranded in the hotel, telling them that if they went to the police, the police would put them in prison. 

The women had no documents, no money to pay their hotel bill, no money for food, no ability to ask for help because they didn’t speak English and were afraid of the police.  They usually wound up finding the facilitator and giving up their babies, simply to get out of the country and back home.

While paying a foreign surrogate may not seem as coercive as that, because the women remain in their own country, with family and friends around, the potential for abuse still exists.  First off, many of the women probably did not want to become “rent-a-wombs” in the first place, but did so only because their husbands or family members insisted that they do so, in order to get more money, or because they were in desperate financial circumstances.  Despite the fact that, in the U.S., women are told that they have the power to control what happens to their bodies, women in countries like India often do not have such control.

Also, their may still be coercion, whether from a facilitator or a family member, if a woman gives birth and decides that she wants to parent the child.  In many cases, the woman may not understand what she signed, because she is illiterate; she could easily be misled into thinking that the baby will go to the U.S. for medical care and education, but will return to her in a few months.  Or her husband or family members could beat her if she refuses to relinquish the child, because they need or want the money.

Haven’t we seen enough coercion and misleading of poor families overseas, in international adoption, that we are sensitive to what can happen?  Even some ethical American agencies, often led by thoroughly decent and religious people, have gotten caught up in it accidentally, by employing foreign facilitators who lied to birthparents and told them that if they signed certain papers, their children would go to the U.S. for education and medical care, and would come home to them.  No talk of what relinquishment means.  No talk of the finality of adoption.  And all too often, there aren’t even those decent agencies, just corrupt folks who buy or even steal children and sell them to families, or even orphanages that make money by placing them with unsuspecting Americans.

While the Hague Convention on intercountry adoption isn’t perfect—there are child traffickers even in China, which ratified the Hague and has, in most respects, an extremely well regulated adoption system—the Convention has focused the attention of countries on abuses in adoption and the importance of creating a system with lots and lots of safeguards.  In countries like Vietnam and Guatemala, new Hague-compliant systems have been put in place, hopefully to end some of the corrupt practices that occurred in the past—baby-buying, baby-stealing, visa fraud, and so on.

Maybe, before international surrogacy becomes the next major venue for evildoers around the world, we need a Hague Convention on that topic, too.  We need a set of “best practices”, developed with experts from fields such as law, medicine, social work, and so on.  And until we have such a Convention in place, perhaps we need to create some American laws to prohibit or strictly limit the use of international surrogacy.  In fact, surrogacy laws that exist in the U.S. are still evolving, and a Hague Convention on surrogacy could even lead to improvements in American practice.


Posted by sak9645 on Oct 13, 2015 at 3:10am

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