Andhra Pradesh town is world's rent a womb mart, with loads of adverts offering 'services' for childless couplesBy A. Srinivasa Rao
The rent-a-womb business is alive and kicking in the poverty-stricken town of Guntur, located in coastal Andhra Pradesh.
In fact, promises to deliver through surrogacy are being dangled to childless couples just about everywhere - from advertisements in the print media and active offers on dedicated websites, to posters, pamphlets, hoardings and even crude enticements on autorickshaws.
Linda Green, from the US, with her child Emperor, who was delivered by a surrogate mother in Guntur
With clinics converting it into a commercial activity, the practice of surrogacy - a couple hiring the womb of another woman to bear their child - has now turned into an attractive business proposition from being a hush-hush affair earlier.
The worrying aspect of the trend is that irrespective of norms and health parameters, several women of the region from the underprivileged section of society are being lured by unscrupulous agents to rent their wombs. Predictably, the response is huge.
On any day, many childless parents can be seen making enquiries about surrogacy at fertility clinics in Guntur.
'Last year, we performed 10 surrogate deliveries. At present, we are taking care of four such cases and another three are under observation,' Dr S.N. Umashankar, a local In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) and surrogacy expert, revealed.
Big business: A banner on the back of an auto in Guntur reads: 'Have you tried all methods to get pregnant? Try surrogacy. Come to our fertility clinic'
How do they zero in on surrogate mothers who agree to bear the child of other men in their womb?
'Commercial advertisements are one way of achieving this. Furthermore, in some cases, relatives of the intending parents act as surrogates out of compassion,' Umashankar disclosed.
'In some instances, mothers themselves come forward to act as surrogates for their daughters,' he added.
These explanations notwithstanding, Mail Today found some fertility clinics seeking the help of agents to search for women willing to become surrogate mothers.
'It is a lucrative affair. Parents have to shell out around Rs 6 lakh for a surrogate child, of which up to Rs 2.5 lakh is paid to the surrogate mother. The hospital charges Rs 3 lakh for conducting the procedure as well as for the pre and postnatal care of the surrogate mother. In addition to this, the agent pockets around Rs 50,000 for providing the proxy mother,' a source said.
Significantly, agents scour the lower middle-class strata of society to hunt for surrogate mothers. The commonest candidates are women desperately in need of money.
'Rs 2.5 lakh is a substantial amount for the poor. The deal is that if a woman can bear with the inconvenience of pregnancy for nine months, there is good money to be made,' the source pointed out.
Sometimes, surrogate mothers themselves double as agents to convince their sisters or other relatives to undergo the procedure for a fast buck, sources said.
Dr M. Gopi Naik, district medical and health officer, Guntur, admitted that surrogacy was turning into a money-making venture in the district.
'It has come to our notice that agents, particularly registered medical practitioners in villages, are luring poor women to act as surrogate mothers by offering them financial incentives,' he conceded.
A surrogate mother currently under observation at Umashankar's clinic admitted that financial needs compelled her to lend her womb.
'My husband and family are supporting me and I have done it willingly,' the woman said.
In January 2011, the police in Burgampahad in Khammam district unearthed a racket in which some agents lured a Muslim woman - Shahnaz of Sarapaka village - into becoming a surrogate mother by offering her Rs 2.5 lakh.
She agreed to bear the child and even reached a fertility clinic in Hyderabad. But her husband, S.K. Shareef, filed a complaint with the police, stating that some agents were forcing his wife into surrogacy.
Eight persons, including two registered medical practitioners acting as middlemen in the racket, were arrested.
Shareef, however, had to relent to his wife becoming a surrogate mother because she had already conceived and he, too, was attracted by the big money.
Subsequent inquiries revealed that as many as 12 women from the Bhadrachalam and Burgampahad areas had been taken to the state capital and confined in fertility centres for bearing children.
WHAT THE LAW SAYS
- The Surrogacy Bill in India is still in the draft stage but the clinics follow the guidelines of the Indian Council of Medical
- ICMR guidelines state women with egg-producing ovaries, but with a damaged or no uterus can opt for the technique. Also, women in whom a pregnancy would be life threatening and those who have had repeated miscarriages with no apparent causes can opt for surrogacy
- The guidelines say women between 21 and 30 years of age with one child and a clean medical and personal history can act as surrogates
Naik said he was going to write to fertility clinics in the district, seeking a detailed explanation on the matter.
'We want to know whether these clinics are employing agents to attract prospective surrogate mothers, how much money they are charging, how many cases they are dealing with each month and what steps they are following. We will also ask for surrogacy records for the last three years,' he disclosed.
In some instances, prospective surrogate mothers themselves contact fertility clinics in response to advertisements in the media and even on websites such as surrogatefinder. com.
Among those whose names figure online is 25-year-old Nagamani, a mother from Hyderabad. The reason for her offering her womb: dire need of money.
However, Umashankar said not all women could become surrogate mothers. Clinics have to follow stringent criteria to choose them.
For starters, a prospective candidate has to be less than 30 years old and must have had at least one child.
She and her partner should be free from sexually transmitted diseases, hepatitis and thalassaemia. There should be no history of congenital anomalies, too.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------MydeaMedia @ 2012