Infertile couples from the US and Europe, frustrated by high costs and legal hurdles, are increasingly turning to India for surrogate mothers. News coverage of the trend has often had an alarmist tone, suggesting that the practice of making “wombs for rent” will inevitably exploit the surrogate mother. And then there are more semantic issues of citizenship and parenthood: if a child’s DNA is American, but is carried and born in India, what passport will he or she receive? Such is parenting in the twenty-first century.
A new feature-length documentary, “Made in India”, explores the touchy issues of family, technology, and poverty by following a Texas couple, Lisa and Brian Switzer, and their Indian surrogate, a Mumbai woman named Aasia Khan.
The two New York-based filmmakers, Vaishali Sinha and Rebecca Haimowitz, began hashing out their film over a cup of coffee in 2006, after one of the earlier articles on Indian surrogacy appeared in the LA Times. Both women were passionate about women’s rights, but initially had different reactions to the surrogacy issue.
“Rebecca came from the approach that, ‘this seems like exploitation, it’s dehumanizing’. I, having come from India and having worked on issues of poverty, sex worker’s rights, and personal choice, came from a perspective that one should have agency. We eventually met at a middle ground,” said Sinha.
The film premiered at the HotDocs festival in Toronto in May. The movie will have its US premiere this fall, at a prominent film festival, according to Sinha. She’d also like to dub the English parts of the film in Hindi and show it in India.
“We want people to think about the issue involved. We really want to bring attention back to the surrogates,” said Sinha.
Legislation in India has failed to keep pace with the explosion of medical tourism, the value of which Sinha said is estimated at $450 to $500 million per year. The government is attempting to address this with a comprehensive bill that will place heavier regulations on assisted reproduction clinics, but the legislation is still only a draft.
Then there are complications from the parents’ home countries as well. Two weeks ago, the Times of India reported that consul generals from eight European countries that have outlawed surrogacy sent letters to ten IVF clinics in Mumbai, warning against providing services to their citizens before they are made aware of the difficult process they will have to go through to obtain citizenship for their children.
These countries, among them France, Germany and Italy, have banned commercial surrogacy, making it extremely difficult for parents to obtain passports for children born from Indian mothers. A German couple fought for two years to be able to take their children home, during which the infants had neither German nor Indian citizenship. Eventually, an Indian high court recognized the children as Indian nationals so they could obtain exit permits, but that only solved the transportation issue; the German parents are still in the process of adopting their own children.
Courtesy of the filmmakers, here is a scene from “Made In India”: