Move over techies – there is a new area in which India is achieving prominence in the area of outsourcing!

Now this is not a field of outsourcing that we, as diasporan Indians living in our adopted homelands or those who live in India, would feel that we would want to brag about! But it does show a combination of resourcefulness, economic necessity and old fashioned entrepreneurship!

So what is this new field? I don’t know if you will be as surprised as I was but it is in providing surrogacy services! Yes, Indian women are functioning as surrogate mothers for Western couples who want children.

Why do they seek the services of Indian women for this purpose? It is a combination of lower cost and relatively liberal laws which make India a haven for this purpose. The cost aspect is self-explanatory – it is cheaper in India than in the US and presumably other countries in the West. The legal issues are more interesting: first, there is little risk that the surrogate mother in India will claim custody of the child and the other factor, quite surprisingly, is that Indian law is more receptive to gay couples using the surrogate services of Indian women without potential legal complications.

There is a fascinating article in “The Daily Beast” that outlines the story of a gay couple who used the services of an Indian woman as a surrogate mother. Here are some excerpts from the article:

Mike Griebe and Brad Fister had tried everything to have a child. They explored adoption. They went to agencies that promise to find babies in the United States. The Kentucky couple even paid $20,000 to a Virginia woman to be a surrogate, only to walk away when she insisted that if anything happened to Griebe, 38, and Fister, 30, that she would have rights to the baby.

Then, one day, while watching Oprah, they heard about a relatively new way to have a child: using an Indian surrogate. After searching online, they came across the Web site for Surrogacy Abroad, a Chicago agency run by Benhur Samson that guides foreign couples through the process of hiring a surrogate mother in India.

The two decided to use Fister’s sperm for the pregnancy, and so he flew to India with Samson. Fister met his surrogate who, he says, is married with two children and told him the money she’s making from the surrogacy will go toward her children’s education.

Fister says he was surprised at how open the clinic was. “The whole process was a lot more hands-on than it would be in the U.S.,” he says. “You get to see the whole process. I got to watch the embryos go in. Those are things you never get to see here. You follow them the whole way.” After one failed attempt and one miscarriage, their surrogate is now due in April. They get updates, including ultrasounds, via email.

Commercial surrogacy was legalized in India in 2002, and it is now estimated to be a $445 million business. Griebe and Fister say they’ve spent around $40,000 on the surrogacy process so far; according to Samson, $8,000 of that goes directly to the surrogate mother. That may seem high, but Griebe said that friends of theirs who are attempting to use an American surrogate “are two years into this and still no baby, not even a miscarriage, and they’re already over $100,000. Every time they try, they have to pay.”

Samson’s agency is one of the few to specifically target gay couples. Homosexuality was only decriminalized in India in July; even though it was rarely prosecuted, it was still a social taboo until a few years ago, says Dr. Samit Sekhar, the embryologist at the Kiran Infertility Centre in Hyderabad, which works with Samson’s agency. “For us, it doesn’t make any difference,” he says of the couple’s sexual orientation. However, the surrogate “doesn’t know if she’s carrying for a gay couple or not.” He said that Kiran has delivered 24 babies via surrogates, with around nine of those going to gay couples.

Now here is where my “desi” antenna went into high alert mode. It had to do with this next passage and anyone who has lived in India would probably react the same way:

It’s illegal for surrogates to be recruited directly by the hospital. Instead, they’re found by a social worker at an NGO, according to embryologist Samit Sekhar. (When asked if it would be possible to interview one of the social workers, Sekhar said that they do not speak English.) “They do the initial counseling for us. Then after the basic counseling is completed and the screening is done, they bring them to the clinic. Then we do more screening from there,” he says, including medical and psychological screening.

I suspect that hospitals involved in this activity probably work in “collaboration” with the social workers to recruit surrogate mothers. I am suspicious about the reason given as to the social worker being unavailable for interview because she could not speak English. More than likely they did not want awkward questions being asked about the role of the hospital/clinic in recruiting surrogate mothers.

“A year ago, I would have said it was very difficult to recruit a surrogate,” says Sekhar. “Now it is becoming much more open. They get a decent amount of money. They get free food, free boarding, and free clothes, and they are housed in a nice place” for 12 months, away from their families.

Of course, using Indian surrogates raises ethical issues…………..the surrogates are often poor and illiterate, raising questions about how much they understand about the contract they’re signing—including what happens if they have health complications or have to terminate the pregnancy because of their own health concerns. There are also questions about what would happen if the parents decided they didn’t want the baby.
It’s difficult for Westerners to understand the way that the money the surrogates get changes their lives……….. “They are happy with the money. It opens up a lot of windows for them at the same time. They can now lead a comfortable life, according to Indian standards at least. They can invest the money in a business, buy a small property. They can send kids to school or college.”

Fister plans on being in India for the baby’s birth; he’s anticipating that he’ll have to stay there for about three weeks after the baby is born, during which time he’ll submit to a DNA test to prove he’s the father and get a birth certificate issued by the American Embassy. “People think you’re doing it in India because it’s less expensive,” says Fister, “but the main reason we went to India is because of the legal issues. Here, there would always be the chance of the mother coming back and saying, I’d like to have visitation. Over there they can actually have it legalized.”

I must confess that I had mixed feelings after reading the article. On the one hand, I can see how if the surrogate mothers really receive the money mentioned above it could drastically change their economic circumstances. But I can see a great deal of potential for abuse by taking advantage of economically disadvantaged women who really are not able to make informed decisions

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