There are maternal deaths after Ivf, there are surrogate deaths too. The dead during or after-delivery mothers make no news because they are not paid to carry their own babies. The deaths of commercial surrogates should make news, but they do not for the other side of the same coin – they were paid to run a nine- month errand.
Commercial surrogates are dying, they have died not just in India but elsewhere too as in America. Are they dying in Africa, Brazil, China, East Europe, Russia? Have they died in Thailand, Nepal? Post-mortems are not routinely performed in after-delivery deaths; cause of death tends to be noted in medicalese as the final one presenting itself which proved fatal, for example a heart failure.
To be kept in mind, surrogates are not infertile to start with: they are selected because they are the exact opposite. The biological mother who underwent Ivf because of her infertility, the commercial surrogate who is paid to undergo Ivf because she is not – are their deaths too small a coincidence?
One of them, in her early thirties, died in mid-2015 in Gujarat after delivering in the eighth month. Not to a pattern, but it is observed that women being pushed even earlier into commercial surrogacy in all patriarchal cultures by their husbands have already completed their task of providing the sons for the family. As had this one. She produces a son for someone else as well, collects payment, feels uneasy, goes to the doctor, dies.
Here is how the doctor places her death for public consumption after the case was reported in the international media because the baby buyer was American. “Boy was born premature, he was attended to immediately and put in the incubator. We will request the contracting family to give more than the three lakh rupees promised. She complained of pain in her stomach after delivery. We admitted her. She convulsed. We shifted her to operation theatre. We had controlled her fluctuating blood pressure twice earlier. Because her blood pressure was low, the foetus received less blood and oxygen and was born premature.”
Women and girls barely out of their teens are also dying after they “donate” a bushel per sale of their ova, the egg which combines with the sperm to make the embryo in Ivf. Still a coincidence?
Governments all over the world are turning a blind eye: unsurprising because it’s about men, their wanting progeny to preen about and muscle power through vested interest lobbies. Meanwhile, the mostly unregulated fertility clinics in developing countries will continue unchecked, and those regulated in the developed world which allows commercial third-party reproduction will, with gusto, continue to do the business of buying and selling bits and pieces of a woman’s body in the guise of infertility.
There is much more money to be made, in what started as a subsidiary of promising people an extension of their own. There is so much money to be made that pimps have set up official shop with business cards and some with only e-addresses to facilitate inter-city, inter-state, national, international procurement of eggs and uteri. The body part can be taken to the customer, the uterus along with the woman can also be flown across borders.
All such physical offices and e-fly-by-nights have chubby-baby posters and photos, garlanded with the promise of parenthood. They guarantee they will make available uteri for ‘dying-to-be’ parents to commission as surrogates, and eggs to be stuffed into them, and sweet-sweet stories can then be narrated to friends and family about mail-order babies as they are cooed to the surrogate’s belly over video calls.
In the meantime, somewhere close by, or not too far away from where this is being read, a young woman is shooting strong drugs through injections into her stomach. She will hyper-ovulate; she might die but before that there will be many, many eggs. In the name of the cause of the manufactured infertility epidemic, these will be extracted, she will be paid for the batch, and couples will be made to pay far, far more for each if they need one. And, even after selection for the pick of the lot, there will still be eggs left over which will not be biological waste.
Use-able eggs. Sale-able eggs. Per piece, per dozen, discounts on more when pooled by clinics? Freeze them, ship them. Where? And, for what purpose exactly? It needs to be called for what it is, ova or oocyte trafficking. It is a piece of a woman’s body which naturally manifests every month as part of her menstrual cycle. It may not exactly be an organ but it is relevant body tissue, genetic material when it makes 50 per cent of a 100 per cent human being. Societies the world over prefer that organs be given to those in dire need, outside of the marketplace. Why should only select portions of the woman’s body, which make society’s future citizens, be held to a lower standard?
Any country which allows its women citizens to turn into renters of uteri and vendors of ova is guaranteeing the commodification of their girl children as they grow in the same, more and even more mutant ways. Matters not whether it is India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, China or other Asian countries, or Africa or Eastern Europe or South America or the western world [where sensibilities are supposedly developed]. Wherever a sale of a woman’s body part is allowed, the commodification has already taken place, the streamlining of the process is under way.
Policymakers have begun to see this, and more and more countries are moving to altruistic egg and sperm donation apart from calling a halt to commercial surrogacy. There are also countries debating whether they want to be among those which do not recognise children born outside by commercial surrogacy, even when the parents are citizens. Citizen-parents may identify orphans in those countries and bring them in as legally adopted through due legal process.
Excerpted with permission from Politics of the Womb: The Perils of IVF, Surrogacy and Modified Babies, Pinki Virani, Penguin Viking.