CORDIS - EU research results

Micro-realities of surrogacy in India

Final Report Summary - SURROG-INDIA (Micro-realities of surrogacy in India)

* Project objectives

Surrogacy is a very controversial practice, especially when it uses the reproductive capacities of women in less-developed countries for financial ends, on behalf of rich individuals or couples who generally come from developed or rich countries. This is the case of India. The country has developed a major offer of medical surrogacy services and until recently it was one of the main international destinations for this purpose, including among European residents. Surrogacy in India is talked of in the world press and is the subject of worldwide political and public debate. Nevertheless, it remains an undocumented reality. As stated by Amrita Pande, in the absence of systematic information, (ethnocentric) “predictions” and “speculations” surround the surrogacy issue in India.

Following the dynamics of some existing anthropological works (from Amrita Pande, Sharmila Rudrappa, Sheela Saravanan), the objective of Surrog-India research project was to study micro realities of surrogacy in India and to understand this biomedical practice through a gender perspective and through the discourses and experiences of those involved in surrogacy, particularly intended parents and surrogates.

* Work performed

The first two years of the Marie Curie Fellowship was dedicated to data collection in India. The last year was dedicated to analysis, publication and dissemination and took place in France. Regarding data collection, I conducted, annotated and thematically analysed interviews with surrogacy protagonists made in Mumbai, Chennai and New Delhi (32 interviews with medical doctors, lawyers, agencies, politicians, associations, experts; 8 with intended parents; and 33 with surrogates); I mobilized data and analysis from other relevant field studies; and I collected quantitative data on Indian and South African egg donors and surrogates from two agency Websites designed for International and Indian intended parents. I realised an important bibliographical work, including a press review; and established a specific bibliographic database (using EndNote). The analysis of these data is the subject of articles published, submitted or in progress.

Professionally, the 3-year research project was an opportunity to pursue other scholar activities (like teaching activities in Mumbai), and to participate in integration activities (attending local and international conferences, scientific meetings, and exchanging with other scholars and experts). I currently assume new responsibilities, co-supervising a Master thesis and a Master internship in France. Finally, I developed dissemination activities, organising an International Seminar on assisted reproductive technologies in Northern and Southern countries (Mumbai, 2014); and co-coordinating three workshops on gender and new reproductive technologies into International Conferences (Hyderabad, 2014; Lyon, 2014; Montreal, 2015). These events have helped to strengthen ongoing scientific networks on Assisted Reproductive Technologies and surrogacy and to created new collaboration projects. The International seminar in Mumbai and the discussion then engaged were the starting point of an edited book that I coordinated with Sayeed Unisa (to be published by Routledge editions on July 2016).

* Main results

My analysis led so far to four main research topics that have been approached or will be further developed:
** India as the main international destination for surrogacy. Many reasons explain that growing phenomenon: proliferation of specialised clinics; low cost; lack of specific legislation; a significant reserve of “labour reproductive workers”; potential use of English language; high-qualified medical care and advanced technologies; and the birth certificate at the name of the intended mother. Nevertheless, India has lost its international leadership for surrogacy with the recent political changes that have progressively closed surrogacy for same-sex couples, unmarried couples and recently to foreign couples. That attests the instability surrounding the practice in India and may explain difficulties that I have to face in setting-up field studies on surrogacy in the country.
**Profiles, history and motivations of intended parents and surrogates. Intended parents are mainly Internationals (non-Indian), independently same-sex or straight couples and belonging to middle-high social class; surrogacy is seen as the last possibility for them to have a child, after various ART attempts that failed and/or after having given up adoption project. Surrogates mainly met the criteria fixed by the Government guidelines. But, unlike what is portrayed on media and public debates, they are neither among the least literate nor the poorest women and families of India. Their motivations are nevertheless financial but connected to gender constraints.
**Taboo of surrogacy in India. For Indian intended parents, surrogacy is a confidential process. This is related to the taboo of infertility and childlessness, which are particularly stigmatised in India. Revealing surrogacy use would reveal their infertility problems and shed doubts on the offspring of the family (culturally based on blood). For surrogates, surrogacy is a hidden commitment. Here, the taboo concerns the use of their reproductive body. In vitro fertilisation is a process of which there is no common knowledge; surrogacy is then compared to adultery. Not telling anyone is a way to protect themselves from stigmatisation and to protect the reputation of their husband and family.
**Surrogacy as revealing women conditions and biomedical power in India. Women family status, as spouses and mothers, and their very low other working opportunities, as women, allow understanding why they engage in surrogacy. Then the way the biomedical practice is organised and managed shows the power of medical doctors in India, especially in reproductive health area, and women’s domination and submission. But, at the opposite, surrogacy also reveals an emancipatory potential for women in India.

Professionally, the project strengthened my scientific and academic abilities and asserted my skills on project management, including in another cultural and academic setting, and regarding the financial aspects and the networking part. It also allowed me to take more responsibilities in editing and supervising work.

* Final results, impact and use

Producing new empirical data on surrogacy in India through a two-year field study, the project aimed at filling the gap between what activists and the media portrayed and what was really happening, thereby contributing to a new research area around this undocumented practice and encouraging new researches and projects. The analysis of the data collected has been so far the object of 2 published articles and 6 communications, including for general audience. Moreover, I am currently co-organising the first international conference on surrogacy that will be held in Paris on November 17-18, 2016.

Professionally, the project allowed me to improve my skills and to apply for research positions, based on research activities and outputs.