Outsourcing Pregnancies to India

You know, this one just renders me speechless. And yet I feel somehow I should have expected it.

Anand, India– Every night in this quiet western Indian city, 15 pregnant women prepare for sleep in the spacious house they share, ascending the stairs in a procession of ballooned bellies, to bedrooms that become a landscape of soft hills. A team of maids, cooks and doctors looks after the women, whose pregnancies would be unusual anywhere else but are common here. The young mothers of Anand, a place famous for its milk, are pregnant with the children of infertile couples from around the world. The small clinic at Kaival Hospital matches infertile couples with local women, cares for the women during pregnancy and delivery, and counsels them afterward. Anand’s surrogate mothers, pioneers in the growing field of outsourced pregnancies, have given birth to roughly 40 babies….Commercial surrogacy has been legal in India since 2002, as it is in many other countries, including the United States. But India is the leader in making it a viable industry rather than a rare fertility treatment. Experts say it could take off for the same reasons outsourcing in other industries has been successful: a wide labor pool working for relatively low rates.  Critics say the couples are exploiting poor women in India — a country with an alarmingly high maternal death rate — by hiring them at a cut-rate cost to undergo the hardship, pain and risks of labor.  “It raises the factor of baby farms in developing countries,” said Dr. John Lantos of the Center for Practical Bioethics in Kansas City, Mo. “It comes down to questions of voluntariness and risk.”  

(Thanks, Jender-Parents, for the link.)

7 thoughts on “Outsourcing Pregnancies to India

  1. This has got to be one of the most bizzare stories/trends of the 21st Century. Understandable in certain cases, but highly questionable in others. Like wealthy couples who want children and have the ability to produce a child by themselves, but the woman not wanting to subject her body to the rigors of child birth to maintain her shapely figure. So they farm out the tough work to an economically disagvantaged woman, who given the basic resources, would never agree to such a proposal otherwise. To each her own?

  2. The practice of contract motherhood has been around for several decades, and although the scale of this “outsourcing” may be new, it has always been the case that poor and working class women, in every nation where this goes on, are the ones who carry the baby. Despite much-vaunted attention to sexual and procreative freedom, middle-class and owning-class parents do not tend to want their daughters to grow up to be contract mothers. What I disagree with, in comment #1, is putting the blame on wealthy women who supposedly do not want to damage their figures. I think more attention, and more responsibility, should be placed on the men who hire contract mothers.
    I’d also want to know about the role of racism in the Indian situation. Are the Indian women’s own ova being used, so that the “couple” are in fact supplying only sperm? Or does this practice involve the transfer of fertilized eggs from the wealthy couple? Are the wealthy couples who do this all white?
    Finally, I think we need to notice that the infants produced in this way are, in effect, being sold. In any other context, we would call this slavery–a slavery made possible by the economic serfdom of the contract mothers.

  3. According to the linked article, in the clinic under discussion:
    “The women are impregnated in-vitro with the egg and sperm of couples unable to conceive on their own.”

  4. I think the comparison to slavery is inapt. Presumably, what’s distinctive about slavery isn’t that it involves people being bought and sold, but that once slaves are bought, they have no (or extremely limited) rights against their buyers. This isn’t the case here. The children who are sold to contract parents have the same rights against their parents that other children have.

    Of course, that’s not to say that there’s nothing objectionable here. But I think it’s worth keeping these issues distinct, and noting that even if children are, in effect, being sold, they’re not being treated like slaves. The countries where the contract-parents live make it just as illegal for parents to abuse children obtained through contract surrogacy as it is to abuse children obtained through other means.

  5. note: I may have misunderstood introvertica’s post. I had understood introvertica to be comparing the position of the children to slaves. If, instead, introvertica was likening the surrogates to slaves, then my post in response was beside the point.

  6. As Introvertica says above, really the part of this that is new is the transnational part. Commercial surrogacy has been around in the US for some time. It’s a part of a the assisted reproductive technology (ART) industry. There’s another recent case involving a man from Ohio who purchased eggs from a woman in Texas, had them fertilized with his own sperm, and then had the resulting embryos implanted in a woman in Pennsylvania. (I just commented on this case on my blog today–http://julieshapiro.wordpress.com/2008/01/07/new-in-brief-ohio-surrogacy-contract-upheld/

    I think these cases raise two separate questions it might be useful to separate. One is whether the woman who gives birth in these cases is a mother. If she is, then what she’s selling is her parental rights and that’s not something that we generally allow. (No selling children.) But even if she isn’t a mother (and people disagree) you could wonder about whether this form of labor should be permitted.

  7. It’s not just the transnational bit that’s new. There’s also putting the women in a house for 9 months together, and letting family members come only for visits. This is on a continuum with the kind of control exerted over commercial surrogates’ (and even other mothers’) bodies, but it is more extreme. (Of course, these women are also getting classes which may really help them in their later lives, so it’s complicated, but there’s no denying the total control exerted over their pregnant lives.)

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