The Weekend Leader - Customizing babies

In the international project of surrogacy, emotion becomes the casualty

Madhusree Chatterjee   |   New Delhi


Vol 3 | Issue 23

Life is no longer a gift of love; it is being created with care to fit specifications furnished by parents in the age of surrogacy and in-vitro fertilisation (IVF), says award-winning writer Kishwar Desai.

Desai's new social thriller "Origins of Love" (Simon & Schuster) probes the world of surrogacy and designer babies.

Kishwar's novel is grim in its depiction of surrogacy

"India is becoming a baby factory. Last year over 25,000 babies were born out of IVF and surrogacy in India. Rich people in the country can afford designer babies now," Desai said in an interview.

"Earlier it was a form of colonisation, but now studies show the numbers are divided equally - 50 percent of surrogate babies are born to rich Indian parents and 50 percent to foreigners by Indian surrogates...," said the writer, quoting figures from the research she undertook for writing her book and columns.

Desai's novel is a sequel to her first book - "Witness by Night" - on female foeticide.

The thread is Simran Singh, a feisty middle-aged social worker and a single mother from the first book, who carries the narrative forward.

"I have taken my book beyond the new Bollywood movie, 'Vicky Donor', which is about sperm donation and shows it as a comfort zone. I wanted to explore the discomfort zone. The kids born of the same DNA (eggs) might carry an infected strain of it."

"In the UK, a child can find out the name of the father and mother, but in India, there is no law. The donors are very poor and usually use the money to give their own children a better start in life...," Desai said.

The novel is grim in its depiction of surrogacy - ratcheting up the fear of the "unknown" in children born out of unidentified egg donors and ensuing dilemmas.

A baby is abandoned in the national capital. A product of IVF and surrogacy, she was coveted until she was diagnosed with the fatal AIDS virus. No one knows how the infection was transferred into her.

The baby's fate touches many lives - that of a childless couple in London, doctors, IVF clinics, Simran the social worker and a multi-billion dollar IVF and surrogacy business that is heartless, unethical and unchecked in India.

A whole new body of surrogacy language like commissioning parents, who hire surrogate mothers for their babies, and gestational mother, who rents her womb but cannot get emotionally-attached to the child, has come into being in the IVF clinics, the writer said.

"Surrogacy contracts - usually kept under wraps - stipulate that the lives of the babies are more precious than the mothers and in case of life-threatening situations, the baby has to be delivered safely," she said.

"Surrogacy is an international project. Commissioning parents now look for fairer babies with coloured eyes, bringing into picture women from Europe and Ukraine as surrogates - especially in countries like India. Donors with good educational qualifications and achievements are sought after," she said.

The casualty is emotion. "This baby production process has no emotional quotient, just detachment. It is advance science which makes it possible."

Explaining with rather gut-wrenching instances, Desai said "she came to know of a woman who was administered 25 cycles of IVF treatment for surrogacy while another was forced to carry four embryos in her womb out of which the healthiest one was allowed to live and the rest were removed during pregnancy".

"This process of elimination is known as foetal reduction... it is very scary. There are several grey areas in the Indian surrogacy business about women's rights to their bodies, choices and ethics that need to be addressed," she said.

"The gay community is using it a lot. They have access to their own DNA and look for a surrogate mother. British musician Elton John has one such child and is planning another one. A lot of other celebrities are going through it," the writer said.

Desai emphasises that her story is "assembled from whatever has been happening around me."

The writer, the wife of noted economist and British Labour Party politician Meghnad Desai, is working on the third book in the trilogy about the abuse of teenage girls. - IANS

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