Commercial Surrogacy in India

Vrinda Marwah | Genewatch | July 2011

“I told him (doctor) I didn’t have work, my children go hungry, my husband gets only Rs 3000 (US $65 approx) a month and we have four children to feed. I told him I would do whatever work there was, whatever work he would ask me to do.” -Rashmi,* a surrogate

“…exploitation and opportunity are bound and wound up in one.”
– Betsy Hartmann1

In recent years, the sharp growth in commercial surrogacy in India has drawn much attention and raised several ethical concerns. Surrogacy, the practice of gestating a child for another couple or individual, involves the use of various assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs). India’s fertility industry is an integral part of the country’s expanding medical market and medical tourism industry, within which commercial surrogacy is often portrayed as a win-win situation, seen to give “desperate and infertile” parents the child they want, and poor surrogate women the money they need. This article will bring a feminist health lens to bear on the practice of commercial surrogacy in India, thus highlighting that ethical, economic and political questions are contained in issues commonly regarded as personal. Surrogate women are engaged in a constant and shifting negotiation with their realities, which reveals the agency they exert even within a restrictive paradigm. Their body is their resource, and its use to earn money impacts their lives in complex ways. Feminist thought and action walks a thin line between questioning and respecting women’s choices, and as such, this article is an attempt to deepen our collective understanding of the choices women make.

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