Rent-a-womb, a thriving business but a moral and legal conundrum
by CT Nilesh
Surrogate children are unable to get a nationality. Surrogate motherhood is becoming a profitable business. Women who rent out their womb get a house, medical care, food for themselves and their family as well as a mobile phone for nine months. Now the in-vitro fertilisation business is getting competitive as more than one company are involved, offering conception-to-birth services.
Mumbai (AsiaNews) – ‘Surrogate Babies, not Commodities: Says the Supreme Court’, ‘Twins of German Couple Land in No Man’s Land’, and ‘Rent-a-womb Takes Wing in the City’ are a few of the stories that have recently appeared in the Indian press. They all refer to the same issue, namely how foreign couples are flocking to India for in-vitro fertilisation and womb rental. In turn, this is raising many questions among doctors, government officials and legal experts about the nationality of surrogate children in an area where there are no rules.

Recently, the case of two surrogate twins of a German couple born in Anand two years ago to a Gujarati woman landed in the Supreme Court. The parents applied for a passport, but neither the Indian authorities, nor the German Consulate could issue any papers under existing rules.

A Berlin court could be the final arbiter and decide whether they can be brought to Germany for paternity test and adoption. The lawyer for the German couple, L. Nageshwar Rao, pleaded before the Supreme Court that the biological father, Jan Balaz, was ready to agree to any undertaking in order to bring his children home. India’s highest tribunal has expressed concern about the twin’s welfare and vowed not to let them become a commodity or “stateless” citizens.

The surrogate twins of the German couple have virtually become “stateless citizens” with India refusing them citizenship and Germany not ready to recognise surrogacy as a means of parenthood. Evidently, the legal system and morality is far behind the scientific world.

“Statelessness cannot be clamped upon the children. There must be some mechanism by which they get citizenship of some country. Children should be allowed to leave the country after an assurance of their citizenship has been given” the Supreme Court bench said.

One year ago, similar problems crop up for a child of a Japanese couple born by an Indian surrogate mother. During the pregnancy, the Japanese couple divorced and none of the parents came to claim the new born. Only the grandmother came and had to stay in India months and months before getting some documents to allow her to take away the child.

However, surrogacy is a flourishing business in India. One centre started in July 2008 in Mumbai has already done 12 surrogacies, has enrolled 382 intended parents and has a database of 135 surrogates.

“I work as a domestic servant, said one of the surrogate mothers; I am a widow with three children. I need money for their education and future. If by carrying a baby, I get Rs 2 lakh (US,500); what’s the harm? I need to buy a house of my own.” The surrogate mother will be provided with a place to stay in during the nine month that she carries the baby, furnished and with electricity. She will get a full time maid servant, a mobile phone to keep in touch with her doctor and a tiffin service not only for her but her family members too.

For the intended parents, the centre provides for hotel accommodations, lawyer, cab service, mobile phone, on-line legal drafts, test and scan reports of the surrogate, assistance with ante-natal care, birth certificate with their name as parents, visa and passport assistance.

In vitro fertilisation occurs when the eggs form a woman and the sperm of a man are taken and infused together. An embryo thus formed, is planted in the uterus of a surrogate mother. Complete clinical and medical care is given to the surrogate during the time of the pregnancy. Most intended parents provide for the complete well being of the surrogate mother so that their baby has no problems.

Now competition has started. A German company is making a mega-entry into the country’s nascent test-tube-baby industry. Its incentive is a free second cycle if the first one fails.

There is a huge scope in India since 15% of Indians suffer from infertility. The German company is Morpheus ART from Hannover. They entered in a 51:49 partnership with a Mittal-led group of Indian partners.