Until recently India was the world centre of commercial surrogacy. Pinki Virani is the India-based author of five bestsellers whose latest book is “Politics Of The Womb: The Perils Of IVF, Surrogacy & Modified Babies”. She is currently engaging with lawmakers on how India’s proposed altruistic surrogacy law can be strengthened. MercatorNet asked her to comment on The Economist’s proposals for commercial surrogacy from an Indian perspective.

Pinki ViraniWhat do you think of The Economist’s support for international commercial surrogacy?

It’s a magazine which quaintly calls itself a newspaper, and apart from the occasional excellently-written obituary, is part of the “market-friendly” media. Which would be fine, except that younger readers don’t get balanced viewpoints and one has to wonder how big media hopes to be relevant to upcoming generations.

For example, on matters of assisted human reproduction, “market-friendly” media blindly goes with the only context it knows, the market. But surely the market must stop somewhere, and the human body is where it definitely should.

This is why all sensible societies view organ sales with the revulsion they deserve. The magazine has a headline, “Carrying a child for someone else should be celebrated and paid”. But all mothers have babies for someone else as well: their husbands, families, religions and where reproduction is government-controlled, countries. The surrogate, be she commercial or altruistic, is no different as birth-mother than the mothers who delivered those writing that headline. 

In this contemptible call for international commercial surrogacy —  at a time when nations are clamping down as the proof of what such commerce has done piled up horrifically – they also wind up supporting human trafficking.

Is surrogacy a way out of poverty?

Do organ sales, or blood sales, lift the seller out of poverty anywhere in the world? The magazine also writes, “The fact that a surrogate in India or Nepal can earn the equivalent of ten years’  of wages by carrying a child for a rich foreigner is a consequence of  global inequality, not its cause. Banning commercial surrogacy will not change that.” Appalling generalisations apart, a few fact-checks might have been in order. Only after that will writers with the white man-saviour-syndrome have the right to spout, “Better to regulate it [commercial surrogacy] properly”.

Do surrogacy brokers have the best interests of the surrogate mother at heart?

These are fertile women, as proof of which they have had to have their own child[ren], who are put through a gamut of drugs meant for infertile persons.

They are given vast quantities of chemical-hormones orally, through injections [which are also directly into their stomachs] and pessaries [which are also inserted vaginally], to trick their bodies into suiting the fertility clinics’ treatment-schedule.  

Then, to make the embryo embed — in some cases, the embryo is laser-drilled to assist in the “hatching” – the inner lining of the uterus might also get laser-slits. Par for the course are several courses of chemicals to make the woman’s body forcibly accept the embryo, change it from the conceptus to foetus, and then prevent its natural rhythms taking over as the body tries to revert to its known menstrual-cycle.

Aggressive IVF’s failure rate is 75 percent. This notion that the surrogate – or even a regular patient — gets pregnant in the first cycle is far from the truth. If she does deliver the baby as its birth-mother, she has nurtured it inside her while trying to ignore its existence. Think of the incalculable harm this does to the foetus-mother bond and to the child throughout its lifetime. And then she is cut up in a Caesarean procedure, stitched up and sent packing.

Surrogates have died not only in India but also in America. And these are only the known cases; no one knows how many more have died because of what The Economist deifies as the “rich foreigner”. The entire repro tech industry is geared towards money, so why should the best interests of the surrogate be on the broker’s mind?  

India banned international surrogacy recently. The current Bill under consideration bans commercial surrogacy completely. Has there been much push-back from the surrogacy industry?

Commercial surrogates have been lined up for television interviews by the fertility clinics; only the best-looking and the most articulate were permitted to be spokespersons. Care was also taken to ensure that they did not look “too poor”. 

Parts of the industry which earlier did not “do homosexuals for cultural reasons” are suddenly their loudest champions vis-a-vis surrogacy.  It’s only when the law is passed will we be able to see for ourselves if some of the influential cash-flush fertility clinics have managed to get past government by playing politics over women’s wombs.

You have described surrogacy as “sexless rape”. Isn’t that too harsh to describe a transaction which brings joy?

How can a “transaction” of a human being – a baby being bought and sold – from a perverse form of sex-slavery, be kosher?

This is not about morals, nor is it about religion or feminism. It’s about the hypocrisy of thinking that since it isn’t body-on-body sex — it's the aseptic environment of a lab — it must be science. 

This is about that which brings the joy –that incredible miracle from a woman’s body called the baby. And this baby has a right to not be forced into this world by hook or by crook and a right to know its parents and a right to expect them to look after it, to the best of their ability.

Commercial surrogacy divides a mother into two: the genetic [or egg-giving], and the birth mother [the surrogate]. Most humans are born to both as one biological package; those promoting commercial surrogacy might want to put themselves in that child’s shoes.

Surrogacy is third-party reproduction, as are sperm and ova-oocyte sales; which are rather hypocritically referred to as “donations”. We’re talking about adults who did not know each other, who did not even come together, who sold bits of their bodies and who walked away to get on with their own lives.

The Economist also says, “Just as more women are becoming single parents with the help of sperm donation, more men are seeking to do so through surrogates.” Again, this ignores a key difference, women already have more than half, two of the three critical components needed for a birth. It’s just so sad that just as women have been made to feel “barren” if they are without child, “market-friendly” media is now doing the same thing to men.

Pinki Virani is the India-based Author of five bestsellers; two of which – ‘Aruna’s Story: The True Story Of A Rape & Its Aftermath’, “Bitter Chocolate: Child Sexual Abuse in India’ — have assisted in the bringing of national laws on passive euthanasia and the protection of children against sexual abuse. Virani’s latest book, released internationally, is “Politics Of The Womb: The Perils Of IVF, Surrogacy & Modified Babies” in which she presents global proof, backed by world experts, on the real risks of brute-forcing artificial reproduction and the dangers of aggressive-IVF on both the intending mother and her baby. She is currently engaging with lawmakers on how India’s proposed altruistic surrogacy law can be strengthened.  

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Pinki Virani is the India-based Author of five bestsellers; two of which – ‘Aruna’s Story: The True Story Of A Rape & Its Aftermath’, “Bitter Chocolate: Child Sexual Abuse in India’ --...