Outsourcing Baby-Making in India
It's a typical story in our global economy: Citizens of wealthy nations hire Indians to provide goods and services that cost less than the same goods or services domestically produced. But in the case of "reproductive tourism," the Indian laborers are surrogate mothers who literally labor on behalf of foreign couples. They are paid to 'host' babies who are later carried home to the U.S., Britain, Israel, Australia, and other developed nations.
One expert recently referred to reproductive tourism as a "global growth sector," with India leading the trend. (Reproductive tourism is not limited to India. British women regularly travel to U.S. fertility clinics to access a larger pool of donated eggs, and Indian-style surrogacy programs are springing up in Guatemala.) Fertility clinics in India market their services by offering foreign clients travel services so they can sightsee while in India for an IVF cycle or retrieving their baby. The clinics also recruit surrogates, usually poor Indian mothers; help clients obtain donor eggs and sperm; perform in vitro fertilization (IVF); house, feed, and provide medical care to surrogates during their pregnancies; and deliver babies.
Advocates for this business claim that everyone wins. Childless couples get the babies they long for, and surrogates receive income for better housing and education for their own children. But it's not that simple. Indian surrogates must live in special housing while they are pregnant. They are well-fed and taken care of, but what does it say about whose families are more valuable when Indian mothers are away from their own children for months while they gestate babies for wealthier foreigners? According to a recent Slate article, many of the women cannot read their surrogacy contracts. Those from higher castes are paid more than those from lower castes, and surrogates are paid only if they deliver a living child.
Two scenes from the HBO documentary Google Baby illustrate the injustice and heartbreak in the fertility tourism boom. In one scene, an Indian woman who recently gave birth to a baby for a foreign couple sits by her husband as he talks about the difference their surrogate payment has made, allowing them to buy a house and other comforts. He says he expects his wife will serve as a surrogate again. He says that, although women's brains are generally inferior to men's, his wife made a good decision. The wife, who admitted in an earlier scene that handing the baby over right after birth was very painful, listens in silence.
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