Acton Institute Powerblog

Surrogacy Industry Poses Threats To Women’s Health; Does Anyone Care?

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India has a huge and still-growing medical tourism industry. A $2 billion part of this industry is the surrogacy business. India has few laws regulating surrogacy, and it is a popular place for people from the U.S. and the EU to head to for a baby. But the lack of regulations also means very little help, support and care for the women producing these children. The women literally become cogs in a giant machine. If one cog breaks, it’s simply replaced with another.

Sushma Pandey was a 17 year old scrap worker in 2010. She was lured into the surrogacy industry to produce eggs via hyperstimulation, which causes the woman to over-produce eggs via chemical inducement. She donated eggs three times in 18 months, and then she died.

The Mumbai High Court asked the police to investigate the role of the hospital, but so far no one has been held responsible. Pandey is India’s first known case of death from egg harvesting; she suffered “brain hemorrhage and pulmonary hemorrhages due to ovarian hyper stimulation,” according to news reports quoting her autopsy results.

For each session she had earned a little over $400.

Then there is Yuma Sherpa. She, too, died after surgery to harvest eggs after undergoing hyperstimulation. Sudha Sundararaman, vice president of the All India Democratic Women’s Association, blames the lack of laws regarding surrogacy, and says the industry preys on the poor.

The concept is promoted as a way of easy income generation for women,” said Sundararaman. “Health professionals in the western state of Gujarat have openly accepted they were helping unemployed women stand on their feet. It is no wonder why the private sector is balking at the regulation of assisted reproductive technology.”

“The business volume of this trade is rising with the number of surrogacy cases increasing at a galloping rate,” said Ranjana Kumari, director of the Delhi-based Center for Social Research, in a phone interview. “The lack of regulation also poses a problem for government agencies to initiate legal provisions and take substantive action against those found guilty.”

Pradeep [the attorney representing Sherpa’s family] says Sherpa’s family had turned down the clinic’s offer of about $500 for the eggs it had already harvested. “Many cases of negligence go unreported because families are unable to pursue cases against the medical clinics even when there is disability arising from such procedures, mainly because they are economically disadvantaged and simply accept the money,” said Pradeep.

Viewing the surrogacy industry through the lens of Christian anthropology, there is no doubt that humans are being treated as objects. Given that, the dangers of surrogacy are not just the ones posed to the health of the surrogate mothers, but the children and all of culture. Instead of science being used to serve people, people are being used to serve science…and the outcomes can be tragic. A death need not occur for surrogacy to be considered tragic. Any time a person is “used” as an object for an end, rather than being treated as a “being” in the image and likeness of God, a tragedy occurs.

The medical and parental stakeholders are not loving, but using, the surrogate woman. The reproductive medical community and the commissioning parents know full well that for the surrogate carrier to contractually agree to transfer her maternal rights does not annul but only conceals the existing parental bonds between the gestational mother and her child. So, when the commissioning parents enter into such a contract, they reduce the surrogate mother and her child to a mere means to their end of getting a baby. When the medical community facilitates this contractual agreement, they reduce the surrogate mother to a mere object, a human incubator, who can be manipulated at will.

The questions of ethics surrounding surrogacy are not limited to places like India. Jessica Kern, a woman in Virginia, found out as an adult that she had been conceived via surrogacy. She believes that children borne of surrogacy live a special pain.

Our voice isn’t out there, because the industry has captured the story,” said Kern. She said she wished people had more balanced information about surrogacy.

“[There] are price tags that hang over our heads,” said Kern. “I wouldn’t be here if $10K [hadn’t been exchanged]. [There] is something inherently wrong about turning children into commodities.”

Alana Newman, founder of The Anonymous Us Project, sums up the surrogacy experience: “If it is illegal to buy and sell a person, it should be illegal to pre-buy a person.”

Read “Donor Deaths in India Highlight Surrogacy Perils” at

Elise Hilton Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.


  • spankym

    These are sad and tragic events for sure, but this article is at best very uninformed and poorly researched. At worst, it is biased to the authors predetermined point of view. I urge the author and readers to research and try to understand infertility and the actual relationships and business of IVF and surrogacy around the world. The problems that come with living in an economic based world where money changes hands is certainly not limited to IVF and surrogacy. Poor children around the world are enslaved as sex workers or factory workers around the world. I would argue that women who are compensated for eggs or surrogacy without coercion are much better off then most poor women in this world.

    • Jessica Kern

      As painful as infertility is, shouldn’t the loss of ability to conceive be mourned? No one is entitled to a child. What about how the people being conceived via these technologies feel?

      • spankym

        So if you were diagnosed with cancer It should be mourned and you should not be entitled to seek treatment? How can you feel a person is not entitled to have a child?

        As for how the millions of people born via IVF and surrogacy feel, I suspect they feel more loved than average simply because by definition they were wanted from the beginning.

        • Kate Bopp

          Ah, that old *being wanted* cherry. It pops up in every discussion about surrogacy & DAHR. So kids who were effectively purchased because two adults could afford to go to a clinic, are more *wanted* than say, my 5 kids who were conceived the natural way? Should my kids feel inferior because they weren’t meticulously planned? Like an expensive holiday, or a business venture? And in so far as adults *deserving* children, do two adults (or indeed single folk) not *deserve* a child if they are infertile but can’t afford fertility clinics? There is no right *to* children. There are only rights *of* children. Those do not involve appeasement of adults seeking to affirm their *worthiness* or the *equal status* of their romantic relationships. Whether or not a person can become a parent also should not be measured by a persons’s ability to pay. Human beings are not commodities. We should never be the subject of a contract.

          • spankym

            No one said or implied you children are not loved or loved less or being inferior. Nice try though.

            I only said, “I suspect”. Nothing scientific, just that I suspect if there was a large, world wide, study, all other things being equal, children who are adopted or conceived through IVF and/or surrogacy might feel more wanted. It is just based on the premise that s by definition adopted and IVF conceived children would be 100% wanted, while the same would not be true for ‘naturally’ born children.

            Anyhow, You seem to take issue with the fact that people pay the surrogates, egg donors, doctors, etc? And it is somehow not fair that some people can afford this while others not (just like everything else in the world) What if universal health care covered it?

            My point still stands (as reply to JK), if one is unfortunate enough to be diagnosed with cancer or perhaps need a kidney, etc. then you wouldn’t seek treatment?

            As for human beings being subject of a contract, that is laughable. Your body is the most personal and sacred thing you have. You can do whatever you want with it. Sell your plasma, be a prostitute, work in coal mine, become a rock star, or even kill yourself. Each individual should have that choice. These surrogates are not being forced into doing this anymore so than you are being forced to have a job to pay your bills.

          • Greg

            Should I feel inferior because I cannot have children and you were able to pump out 5?