Article in The Hindu
Nemmani Sreedhar and Pavithra S Rangan
Once literally a taboo, the idea of barren women ‘renting a womb’ to realise the joy of motherhood, is today being bravely embraced by the city.
Burgeoning fertility centres and their crowded premises here, bear testimony to the increasing acceptance of Assisted Reproductive Technologies, chiefly surrogacy.
Affordable procedures, latest technology, claimed success rates, and importantly, the ease in finding women willing to rent out their wombs in the city are incentives for women, not just from here but from across the world, to make Hyderabad ‘destination surrogacy’.
For a woman who cannot bear children, surrogacy is advised as a viable alternative wherein, a couple can have a genetic child with the help of a friend, family member or a commercial surrogate, willing to bear their baby.
“Five years ago, we barely undertook one surrogacy case in a year. Today, we deal with at least two cases every month,” said K. Anuradha, gynaecologist, Anu Test Tube Baby Centre.
“Couples earlier shied away from revealing the child as one obtained from a surrogate mother. But now the society at large is much more open to this idea,” she added.
While surrogacy is indubitably a boon for many, the process is not an entirely clean one. Lack of any enforceable law and regulatory mechanism in the process has reduced parenthood into just another commercial venture.
Some clinics encourage friends or family of barren women to come forward and assume the role of a surrogate. However, others are providing poor women whose wombs can be hired, thereby aggressively promoting commercial surrogacy. They have also formulated attractive packages with a promise to practically ‘deliver’ a baby for a fixed sum.
“Many are unwilling to act as surrogates for their own friends and family. This is the prime reason why couples opt for commercial surrogates,” said M. Divakar Reddy, Managing Director, Dr. Padmaja Fertility Centre. “We provide women willing to bear others’ children by paying them a fixed amount, and an agreement is signed between the couple and the surrogate,” he pointed out.
Even as surrogates are willing to bear children for monetary reasons, he said that they are still wary of the social stigma attached to bearing another’s child. “We counsel commercial surrogates extensively to make them see the nobility in helping a barren couple,” he said.
Women willing to act as commercial surrogates are primarily those belonging to lower-middle class backgrounds and are barely educated. “Several of them come to the city from rural parts of the State. In dire need of money, these women are wiling to bear another’s child, despite the many risks involved,” Dr. Anuradha said.
Certain clinics also have tie-ups with online portals that advertise commercial surrogacy and scout for prospective parents from across the globe. The process being three times cheaper in India, these portals apparently have no dearth of customers.
This has been promoting ‘reproductive tourism‘ in Hyderabad as well as other cities in the country. A certain clinic in the city has, within a span of six months, taken up cases of 12 foreign couples wanting children through commercial surrogates.
“Pregnancy itself is a process involving several risks and surrogacy is no exception. In case of any eventuality to the surrogate during pregnancy, there are no laws or mechanisms to protect her. There is a need for a strong legislation to regulate the practice,” Dr. Anuradha said.
In a system involving conniving agents and clinics, a surrogate merely gets one-fourth of the total amount that a wanting couple is charged. But numerous physical and psychological risks that she is forced to bear during the process outweigh the commercial gain.
But is surrogacy the only option for a barren couple? Doctors believe that couples are opting for surrogacy because alternatives like adoption warrant an extremely cumbersome procedure. While adopting a girl child takes up to one-and-a-half years and for a boy the process is two-and-a-half years, doctors say couples prefer surrogacy, which in less than year gives them their genetic child.
Easing adoption laws and sensitising society at large, they say, can put at bay rampant malpractices surrounding surrogacy.