Renting Wombs

Vrinda Marwah | Himal | October 2011

The booming surrogacy industry in India is rife with unanswered ethical, economic and political questions.

Reshma (name changed), age 35, gives me a dazzling smile. As she settles into the interview, re-adjusting the dupatta on her head, she says, ‘I have not done anything wrong, have I?’ It is a statement, not a question. Reshma worked briefly as a sweeper at a small private clinic in Jalandhar, Punjab, before she decided to become a surrogate for a Punjabi NRI (non-resident Indian) couple.

Surrogacy, the practice of gestating a child for another couple or individual, involves the use of Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ARTs) – a group of technologies that assist in conception or the carrying of pregnancy to term. These include intra-uterine or artificial insemination, and in-vitro fertilisation (IVF), popularly known as ‘test-tube baby’ technology. ART provision in India has expanded in recent years into a veritable fertility industry. As the country’s medical market and medical-tourism industry grows, ARTs have been added to the long list of cheap services that high-tech India is selling to the world. Within this, 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.

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