A debate on rich countries preferring surrogate mothers from countries like India was recently held at a conference in Brisbane.
According to Australian sociologist Associate Professor Catherine Waldby of the University of Sydney, India is undercutting the US as a preferred source of surrogate mothers for couples from developed countries.
Advertisement"Reproduction is becoming a form of work for women in a number of places," ABC Online quoted Waldby as saying.
Waldby had given a keynote speech on the topic at the recent Asia-Pacific Science, Technology and Society Network Conference, hosted by Griffith University.
The professor said couples travel to India to create an embryo through IVF, which is then implanted into an Indian woman, who is paid to be a "gestational surrogate".
She says the Indian government is encouraging this "fertility outsourcing", following the "call centres model".
She further enumerated that surrogates, scientific expertise and clinical labour are all cheaper in India compared to the US, where commercial surrogacy started in the early 1990s.
Waldby said Indian surrogates get around 5000 dollars to 6000 dollars per baby, which is six to ten times their usual annual income.
She said it costs the western couples around 15,000 dollars or 20,000 dollars for an Indian surrogate, whereas they would pay around 100,000 dollars for a surrogate from the US.
"India is competing on price with the US," she said.
She also predicted that the gestational surrogacy industry in India will grow enormously.
"The demand for surrogacy is huge and a lot of it is unmet because most countries do not permit commercial surrogacy and in the few that do, the prices are prohibitive," she said.
Waldby stated that the Indian government has created special medical visas to facilitate medical tourism, including for those seeking commercial surrogacy.
She said, unlike a surrogate who uses her own eggs, a gestational surrogate makes no genetic contribution to the child.
This means the child bears no visible trace of the surrogate mother's appearance and this makes it easier for India to service a global market of people wanting to "reproduce white ethnicity".
This marketing angle is reflected in online advertisements from surrogacy clinics, which highlight only blonde western parents and babies.
Waldby said while there are obvious financial benefits to surrogates from fertility outsourcing, there are larger questions that should be considered.
She said India is already well known as a place where you can buy organs like kidneys from poor people looking to make a dollar, and that commercial surrogacy could be seen as a "less onerous" way to make money.
"[But] it reinforces certain kinds of power relations between different populations," she said.
"For a large proportion of the population in the world, the only capital they have is their bodies," she added.
According to New Delhi-based women's health advocacy group Sama, one surrogacy can give women enough to buy a house, but the practice needs to be regulated.
"It is being promoted as an alternative livelihood but it's not as simple as that," Preetie Nayak of Sama said.
She said women are exposed to health risks from having an embryo implanted and family can pressure them into commercial surrogacy, and at the same time suffer the stigma of earning money in this way.
Australian legal academic Associate Professor Anita Stuhmcke, of the University of Technology, Sydney said most states in Australia allow women to be reimbursed for "reasonable expenses" for acting as a surrogate, which in one case has been argued to be 50,000 dollars.
But she says commercial surrogacy was criminalized in the 1980s and recent government inquiries into surrogacy laws have failed to review this decision.
"They've excluded the issue of medical tourism, excluded talking about the fact that Australians are going overseas," Stuhmcke said.
"If we ban it here of course people are going to go and find it somewhere else.
"It is irresponsible to push our own citizens offshore to engage in a practice elsewhere with people that may or may not get what they're due in terms of payment.
"It's a double standard to me," she stated.
Stuhmcke says failure to confront the realities of commercial surrogacy mean those who engage in the practice can't discuss the issue.
"The minute they open their mouths they're classed as criminals," she added.
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