Mumbai,Aradhna Wal(dna):Surrogacy is the latest buzzword for India's booming medical tourism. At an estimated one-sixth the cost of the treatment in the United States, couples from all over the globe are travelling to India to make a deal with surrogate mothers to carry their embryos so they can have a biological child. As author Leslie Morgan Steiner wrote in her book, The Baby Chase, India offers these couples "world-class private hospitals, an abundance of English-speaking doctors, and a plethora of poor-but-healthy women of childbearing ages."
What this rather airbrushed description ignores are concerns of legality, ethics, the treatment of the 'host' woman and what prospective clients go through when things go wrong.
Peter Bussian, a photographer-cum-filmmaker from the US, came to Mumbai after several years of trial and a failed In vitro fertilisation (IVF) back home. Though he is now father to four-month-old twin boys, parenthood did not happen before a hellish journey, which involved losing one unborn child after the surrogate contracted hepatitis E.
Bussain's story is one example of a troubling underbelly. Despite a flourishing business, India does not have proper legislation in place to deal with assisted reproductive technologies (ART), which comprises surrogacy and IVF. A draft of the ART (Regulation) Bill, framed according to the guidelines laid out by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), has been pending since 2010.
The Bill in its current form would ensure that all ART clinics in India get accredited and licensed. Proper implementation of this measure would at least crack down on negligence in many such clinics, many of which are not even registered with the ICMR. Right now, there are no safeguards in place for the host, the children born or the genetic parents.
According to Razia Ismail of India Alliance for Child Rights, the ICMR guidelines too are insufficient, as they are more concerned with economic safety of the surrogate mothers, and fail to ensure the wellbeing of the child. She points out incidents in South East Asia, where genetic parents have either wanted to abandon children born with conditions such as autism, or in case of multiple births, taken home the male child over the female. Such cases must be happening in India too, she says, they're just not recorded. For now, children born through surrogacy are seen more as commodities.
It is the doctors who rejoice the absence of a formal legislation. Dr Anoop Gupta, medical director of the IVF clinic in Delhi where Bussain was finally able to have children, says that laws can bring in a sense of insecurity among doctors as they could be misused. "Doctors will be at the receiving end. Clients often don't understand... even the most fertile of women needn't always become pregnant, similarly complications can arise in pregnancies."
However, he too, admits that because of the influx of money and rampant commercialisation, what is essentially a medical service has become a business with no 'human touch'. "Big clinics have marketing teams only to attract foreign clients. It's no longer medical people who are in charge of the clinics. So yes, when it's only about making money, less care is taken and errors are introduced," he says, adding "it's become a business of commissions. Agencies taking clients to specific clinics and doctors for a cut of the profit."