India: No law to halt the exploitation of poor, illiterate women as surrogate mothers Print E-mail
 Sunday July 15, 2012

Rent-a-womb, a thriving industry unbridled by law

By Aarti Dhar
Scroll down to also read "Dramatic increase in worldwide illegal organ trade" (Another of today's multi- billion dollar businesses, exploiting the poor for the benefit of the wealthy)
With no dearth of ignorant and poor women, rent-a-womb is a thriving industry today. (File photo)

ANAND (Gujarat): Ethical, legal issues thrown to the winds as poor women play surrogate mothers

Right in the heart of this city, which found a place on the atlas as the Milk Capital of India, is a ‘fertility clinic-cum-hostel’ to house women who rent their wombs, mostly for foreign couples.

The facility, which runs under the name Akanksha Fertility Clinic, caters for 30 surrogate mothers at any given point. Driven by poverty, the women bear and nurse a child of another couple, for a price.

Thanks to the emergence of surrogate motherhood as a multimillion-dollar industry in the country, the clinic is doing a roaring business. What is the success formula? An unending supply of poor and illiterate women and the absence of laws have made the trade the fastest way to make money.

A peep into the clinic-cum-hostel and random interaction with some of the women are an eye-opener. Nazira, wife of a mason near a village in Ahmedabad, chose to become a surrogate to help the family come of out a financial crisis.

Now several months into pregnancy, Nazira will get Rs. 3.25 lakh after the delivery as per a contract signed by her and the commissioning couple. This is in addition to a monthly allowance of a couple of thousand rupees for the gestation period of nine months. If she has twins, the ‘party’ (intending parents) will have to pay her 20 per cent more.

Another surrogate in the hostel, who did not wish to be identified, said she needed money to get her daughter married. She preferred foreign couples because they paid in dollars.

Hansa Pramod, an employee of the clinic, has been delivered of three children for two foreign couples. “First time I moved from rented accommodation to my small house and the second time, to a bigger house,” she told The Hindu.

She admits that when she gave away the children (twins) to an American couple the first time, she felt uneasy but consoled herself in the thought that they were not hers.

Another inmate had four foetuses in her womb, two of which were aborted as the couple did not want so many children. There is no clarity on whether two foetuses were aborted for medical reasons.

“At the moment, there is no law in the country on surrogacy and therefore, it is neither legal nor illegal,” said a senior Health and Family Welfare Ministry official, admitting that ethical, moral, social, monetary and legal issues were raised by various sections of society.

Rent-a-womb is a thriving industry today. With no dearth of ignorant and poor women, and no laws to regulate the mushrooming fertility clinics, it is the fastest way to make money.

Costs less in India

A commissioning couple can get a surrogate for half the price in India compared to the cost in the U.S. or the U.K., where surrogacy is not allowed or permitted only in special cases. European countries do not allow surrogacy at all.

A random scan of the website and some telephone calls to the in vitro fertility (IVF) clinics across several cities makes it clear that surrogacy is rampant and could cost between Rs. 8 lakh and over Rs. 10 lakh, though the surrogate herself gets less than 50 per cent of the money earned by these clinics as the doctors double as agents. There is no mandatory health or life insurance for the surrogate in case of her death. Surrogacy is also advertised as an enterprise in newspaper advertisements and clinics.

There is no supervisory and regulatory body under which all assisted reproductive technology clinics offering their services could be placed, except a set of guidelines, brought out by the Indian Council of Medical Research in 2005, which, however, are not legally binding, ICMR Director-General V.M. Katoch told The Hindu. Based on these guidelines, the ICMR has now come up with a draft Assisted Reproductive Technologies (Regulation) Bill, 2010, which is with the Ministry of Law and Justice for vetting and is expected to be tabled in Parliament in the winter session.

Justifying commercial surrogacy, Dr. Nayna Patel of the Akanksha Fertility Clinic said all surrogates were volunteers and had legally entered into an agreement with the intending parents. “We not only look after them during delivery but also impart them skills which ensure them livelihood for the future,” she said, dismissing charges of moral and ethical issues as the women were uneducated and poor. “We follow the guidelines and have the best technology available,” she said. The clinic celebrated the birth of 500th surrogate child last month and most newspapers front-paged it!

But CPI(M) leader Brinda Karat says ethical and moral issues are certainly involved in commercial surrogacy. “It is the height of irresponsibility and shame that the government does not have any law to regulate these fertility clinics. The government should bring in the proposed law, though it has many weaknesses.”

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 Saturday14 July 2012

Dramatic increase in worldwide illegal organ trade

By Sven Heymann

Since the global financial crash in 2008, the worldwide illegal organ trade has increased dramatically. Until recently, those looking to sell parts of their bodies generally came from the so-called developing countries; now, the phenomenon can be found in large parts of Europe.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), in 2010 there were approximately 107,000 donated organs worldwide— both legal and illegal. Kidneys made up about two thirds of all transplanted organs. According to a report in the Guardian, WHO doctor Luc Noel expects that about 10 percent of all transplants are performed illegally. On the other hand, the California human rights organisation Organs Watch talks of 15,000-20,000 illegal kidney transplants per year.

But the transplants carried out represent only a fraction of the actual need. Only one in ten requests are currently realised, according to the Guardian report. The profits that can be achieved are huge, says Noel.

Gangs of organ traffickers conduct a million-dollar business in the illegal trade. Media reports consistently speak of up to US$200,000 dollars (€160,000) being demanded for a single organ on the black market. The illegal traffickers exploit the social plight of the donors, who urgently need money but often receive only a fraction of the total. Many are cheated out of any money.

The economic crisis is the main cause of the surge in the illegal human organ trade. The European Union (EU) openly admits this. The website BioEdge quotes the EU special prosecutor Jonathan Ratel saying, “Thanks to the global financial crisis the organ trade is a growth industry”. He speaks about a mutual vulnerability to criminal organ dealers: on the one hand, chronic poverty prevails; on the other side, there are well-off patients who would do anything to ensure their survival.

Jim Feehally, a professor of renal medicine at the University Hospitals of Leicester in the UK, brings out the class nature of trafficking in organs more clearly. The main problem is exploitation, the Austrian newspaper Der Standard quotes him saying. While the rich can buy not only organs, but also afford medical treatment, the donors are often denied such care.

The social dimension of the problem becomes particularly clear in the example of China. More than a a million people there need a kidney transplant, but in the past year, just slightly more than 5,000 received one. Under such circumstances, those from the wealthier layers of society, as well as the rich from the Middle East or Europe, will pay US$100,000-US$200,000 for an illegally transplanted organ, plus the cost of the operation, transportation, etc. The vast majority of those affected from the poorer classes can do nothing other than hope to hear about a matching donor organ, while their health deteriorates further.

But such conditions no longer exist only in the so-called developing world. BioEdge reports that desperate individuals in financial need in Greece, Italy, Spain and the Balkan countries are offering their kidneys, bone marrow, lungs and even their corneas.

This tragic fact sheds a light on the situation in Serbia. Since the beginning of the world economic crisis in 2008, the country has experienced an increase in the official unemployment rate from 14 to 24 percent. Given the high average age of about 41, less than half the population over 15 years old are economically active. The aging population needs medical services urgently, but fewer people can afford them because of rising poverty.

An article in the New York Times describes the inhuman situation that many Serbs now face. The piece describes the fate of Pavel Mircov and his wife Daniella. After the 50-year-old became unemployed during the winter, the father of two children could not find a job. When his own father recently died, he was no longer able to afford a gravestone. The phone has already been cut off.

Now, Pavel and Daniella are desperately trying to find a buyer for their kidneys over the Internet. A transplant could bring nearly $40,000. Belonging to blood group O, Daniella could get a few thousand dollars more on the black market. “I need the money to pay for school for my two children”, writes Pavel in his sales offer.

Officially, the trade in organs in Serbia is illegal, and is punishable by up to 10 years in prison. But the government ignores the barbaric situation that the population confronts. Government officials told the Times that poverty is not so bad as to justify people selling their body parts illegally. The police in Serbia claim that not a single case of illegal organ trading is known to them over the past 10 years.

The fact, however, is that a veritable network of organ traffickers has now formed in the Balkans. In the small southern Serbian town of Doljevac, the government had to intervene when local residents tried to organise and register an official agency for the sale of organs and blood. With an unemployment rate of about 50 percent, more than 3,000 people wanted to participate. Given the legal situation, many are now looking to link up to the organ trade through Bulgaria and Kosovo.

The Times also explained how the official bans are avoided. It describes the fate of Milovan, a former factory worker from southern Serbia. The 52-year-old donated his kidney to a wealthy local politician. In return, the man was supposed to put him on the payroll of his company and provide him with medication. In order not to get into legal trouble, the two pretended to be brothers. The transplant was finally completed in a public hospital in Belgrade. After the politician wanted nothing more to do with him, the heavily indebted Milovan is now on his own.

Serbia is by no means an isolated case. Kosovo in particular is considered a stronghold of the illegal organ trade. To this day, the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), supported by the Western powers in the war in Yugoslavia, is accused of killing Serbs, and then removing and selling their organs. Illegal transplants were performed at the Medicus clinic in the capital of Pristina until 2008. A trial of seven men accused of organ trafficking, human trafficking and other offences has been running since autumn 2011, as Focus magazine has reported.

Nancy Scheper-Hughes, chair of Organs Watch, said the current conditions recall the situation after the collapse of the Soviet Union. At that time, chronic unemployment produced a new wave of willing donors.

The reemergence of such barbaric conditions in the heart of Europe is a direct indictment of the capitalist system. The dissolution of the Soviet Union and the reintroduction of the profit system in the former Stalinist-ruled countries led to an enormous decline in living standards. Capitalist restoration not only led to unemployment and poverty, but also to the collapse of public infrastructure and the health system.

The banking crisis is now bringing eastern European conditions to Europe as a whole.

The trade in organs shows the incompatibility of the profit system with the basic needs of the majority of the people.

While technical and medical progress makes possible a high level of health care for the entire population, capitalism is forcing millions of people around the world to sell parts of their own bodies.