A setback for surrogacy

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It is the opinion of some that renting a womb from a poor, often illiterate woman in India, for rates cheaper than in the West, is ‘exploitation’. A few days ago, the Indian government moved to limit this supposedly objectionable practice by banning foreign couples from hiring surrogates there. However, the practice of paying a woman to be a surrogate mother is, in fact, the complete opposite of exploitation. The average wage rate for a woman living in rural India (where the vast majority of these surrogates are from) ranges from 85 to 150 rupees a day, depending on what type of work they do and what region they live in. That’s a range of 84p to £1.50 a day, or a maximum of around £550 a year, if they work a full 365 days.

Now compare that to the £5200 ($8000) the average surrogate receives for just 9 months, and you can immediately see the benefit. For a woman in rural India, the real travesty is the poor wage rates they currently receive for hours of backbreaking work on a farm, not the American and UK individuals willing to pay them ten times what they’d usually get a year.

The next reason this policy fails is because most of the market for surrogates in India is from foreign families - thousands are estimated to use the service a year. Getting rid of demand from abroad will not only reduce in the number of woman hired as surrogates, but also lower their average income, as supply will outweigh demand. This of course ignores the obvious emotional cost to thousands of foreign women, whom will be losing the opportunity to have their own child.

Compared to most developing countries, India has a fairly comprehensive health system, keeping risks to the surrogate’s health low. Many women hiring the surrogates also send out care packages and pay extra to ensure their surrogates are well taken care of in facilities or hotels for the duration of their pregnancy. Although it is true there need to be measures to safeguard the surrogates, simply cutting out a huge part of the market is not the solution. Surrogates frequently use the money they've earned as a springboard into further education or training, or to pay for their own children's school fees, improving their future prospects and alleviating the cycle of poverty- an opportunity the Indian government has just restricted.

Therefore, although well intended, it is clear to see how this policy will actually do more harm than good to those it is trying to protect.