Films / Miscellaneous / Reviews

Documentary shines light on commercial surrogacy

Photo by CaptainOates via Flickr 

Emily Rivas

It was in early October when a 54-year-old Canadian woman returned home from India with a baby born through a surrogate mother in a “baby factory”. According to a recent BBC documentary, she isn’t the only one doing it.

House of Surrogates, which premiered Oct. 8 on BBC4, portrays poor Indian women choosing surrogacy to improve their lives. The clinics, under the direction of Dr. Nayna Patel, house 100 pregnant women in a single living space who are paid around U.S $8, 000 to carry babies in their womb.

“I definitely see myself as a feminist. Surrogacy is one woman helping another,” Patel says in the film.

However, many see what Patel is doing as controversial. Infertile couples see it as their last chance of having their own child, as expressed by a Russian woman in the documentary.

In Canada, the human egg trade is a market whose regulations fall under a grey area. It is illegal to buy human eggs, but not to sell them, said Dalhousie University professor Françoise Baylis to the CBC. Though the Supreme Court invalidated The Assisted Human Reproduction Act in 2010, the ban on commercial purchasing of eggs, sperm and surrogate services remains, according to the National Post. New laws are also making it more difficult for same-sex couples and single parents who are looking for surrogacy.

According to Reuters, India started its commercial surrogacy in 2002 and is one of the few countries where women can transfer ova through in-vitro fertilization (IVF) to paid surrogates. Georgia, Russia, Thailand, Ukraine and select U.S states are among the other countries where surrogacy is allowed.

Low-cost technology, skilled doctors and willing surrogates have made Gujarat state in India a go-to-place for surrogacy.

Patel says in the documentary that her mission is one in the name of feminism–gathering women to help each other out. But she’s received numerous death threats from people accusing her of exploiting poor women for the benefit of her clinic.

Women’s rights groups say these fertility clinics are just “baby factories” for the rich, and many of the impoverished and uneducated Indian women do not fully understand the contract they sign.

The Assisted Reproductive Technologies Bill (ART), a law that protects all parties involved in surrogacy, is currently in the works.

But for now, the Indian surrogates in the documentary say they are just happy that they can provide better education to their children. 

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