From the Field: Surrogacy in India

inda-surrogacyI’m writing from Delhi, India, where I’ve spent the last week meeting with various experts and officials that work on the issue of surrogacy here. In short, it’s a booming enterprise, by some reports estimated to be worth $3 billion U.S. dollars.

Medical tourism has been popular in India for over a decade now, but in the last five years the Ministry of Tourism has realized what a lucrative business surrogacy has the potential to be, and as such, has spent much of their time and energy convincing western couples to look to India to provide assistance in creating the child of their dreams.

Walking down the streets of Delhi, the country’s poverty is inescapable. For some, the prospect of hiring an Indian woman to carry their child seems to be a win-win situation, where the Indian woman is given the opportunity to make some much needed cash to contribute to household income and the intended parents get the child they so desperately desire.

There are numerous problems with this initial assessment, however. For now I’ll focus on one. Here in India, patriarchy still reigns supreme and the primary motivation for these women to enter into a surrogacy arrangement is to pay off their home mortgage or their husband’s business. In other words, this is rarely a free decision on the part of the woman. By disregarding this cultural fact, we are contributing to this problem, not alleviating it.

There’s much more to report on, which I hope to do in the coming weeks, but for now, I’ll just say it has been eye opening. Many westerners spend time and money supporting enterprises and products that bill themselves as “socially conscious” — and rightfully so. It’s time we extend the idea of “socially conscious” to the way in which we think about surrogacy, both at home and abroad.

Reprinted with permission from the Center for Bioethics and Culture.

Christopher White is the Director of Education and Programs for the Center for Bioethics and Culture.

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