India moves to ban foreign surrogacy

  • 07/11/2015

Childless couples from around the world have been left in limbo after the Indian government revealed plans to ban them from the country's booming multi-million dollar surrogacy industry.

The industry has exploded in recent years with thousands of infertile couples flocking to India, one of only a handful of countries offering cheap surrogacy using skilled doctors and with relatively little red tape.

But the unregulated industry's growth has sparked debate about exploitation of the 25,000 mainly poor Indian women whose wombs are hired to carry couples' embryos through to birth.

After announcing plans last week for legislation banning commercial surrogacy, the government issued a notice to the country's 350-odd fertility clinics, ordering them "not to entertain any foreigners".

The move sparked an outcry from fertility specialists, along with rallies by surrogate mothers, pressing the government to dump the decision in favour of strict regulation of the industry.

"Why should foreigners be discriminated against? We are all human beings," Nayana Patel, one of India's leading IVF specialists, told AFP.

"I have been doing this for 11 years and it's a beautiful arrangement. Banning it is not the answer," Patel, who heads the Akanksha clinic in western Gujarat state, added.

Clinics scrambled to reassure confused and anxious foreigners who have already started the process, but others have been told to put their plans on hold.

After opening up to surrogacy in 2002, India has become one of the world's leaders, generating between US$500 million and US$2.3 billion annually, according to various estimates.

Russia, the Ukraine and some US states are among those that also allow commercial surrogacy. But India's clinics charge couples between US$20,000 and US$30,000, a fraction of the price in the United States.

Thailand passed a law this year banning commercial surrogacy for foreigners after a series of high-profile scandals.

Nepal's top court also closed the doors in August, leaving dozens of expectant parents in turmoil, before the government stepped in, granting visas allowing them to take their babies home.

India has steadily tightened its industry, barring gay couples and single people from using surrogates in 2012.

Currently, couples and surrogate mothers, many of whom live in shelters during pregnancy, sign a contract before starting the process. But research shows some surrogates do not receive a copy, while others do not understand its contents.

Many women, some illiterate, have children of their own but few have undergone a caesarean – commonly used in surrogate pregnancies – and are unprepared.