The Boom of Medical Tourism

By JESS  THEA

Tourism is an evolving global movement that has taken many forms. Traditional tourism, the idea of travelling abroad, has always been on our radar. However, new trends have flourished recently, including “voluntourism,” the idea of doing community service projects abroad, and “medical tourism,” the idea of travelling to foreign nations for medical reasons. Medical tourism last year, was estimated to be worth about 2 billion dollars Within this medical tourism boom, emerged “Reproductive Tourism,” that is, many Americans and Europeans are looking to outsource surrogacy across the world.

Surrogacy is an option of conception available for couples who cannot have a baby on their own. This process involves hiring a surrogate, a woman to carry a couple’s fertilized egg, until birth. Infertile couples in the United States can pay up to $100,000 for domestic surrogacy. In the past, those who could not afford such high costs had to give up their dream of having a baby. However, in India, surrogacy costs roughly 25,000 dollars, which includes clinic charges, lawyer’s bills, travel and lodging, and the surrogate’s fee. A surrogate in the United States receives anywhere from 30 to 70,000 dollars for their services. A surrogate in India gets promised about $9,000, but is often paid even less.

Made In India is a feature documentary that depicts the personal stories of people involved in the global surrogacy process. Aasia, a 27-year-old impoverished mother of 3 from Mumbai, agrees to be the surrogate for an American couple for the small sum of 9,000 dollars. There are many organizations, namely hospitals, which connect surrogates abroad to international couples. However, after the process, which actually resulted in the birth of twins rather than a single child, and included complications during the pregnancy and a lengthy hospital stay, she is awarded only $3,000.

How can this utter exploitation of the poor be possible? Commercial surrogacy is all but unregulated by the national government. The trend spread because of India’s cheap medical facilities, advanced reproductive technological knowledge, and the poor socio-economic conditions that left women desperate. Many people in India face poverty due to unsuccessful programs implemented by the World Bank and IMF that control industries such as farming. The Western methods these organizations attempt to bring to the country fail, leaving families impoverished, and perpetuating this cycle of exploitation. Unfortunately, surrogacy does not help women escape poverty. During the months of pregnancy, women cannot help their husbands work, be it on a farm, or even just tending for their children. They are sometimes required, depending on the contract, to move out of their homes and live in facilities maintained by the hospitals organizing the transaction. Women are not given the compensation they are promised, and the health risks and setbacks require additional months of rest after the birth. Commercial surrogacy does not in fact help women escape poverty, and rather just increases the gap between the rich and the poor, by making rich the doctors and hospital officials.

The surrogacy industry attracts thousands of foreign clients and generates millions of dollars annually. However, the money stays within the clinics, doctors, and organizations that facilitate the process. The trend continues to spread because of the incredible poverty Indian citizens face, and their desperate need for increased income. Of India’s 1.2 billion dollar people, 70 percent live on less than two dollars a day, according to ______. 25 percent of the population has fallen below the poverty line. The thousands of dollars surrogates receive is life-changing, even though it is drastically less than the amount received by American surrogates. The incentives for women to become surrogates are clear.

In India, there are approximately 300 fertility clinics across the country that offer commercial surrogacy. Between 2007 and 2009, the number of surrogate pregnancies increased fourfold. According to the New York Times, commercial surrogacy is estimated to be a $445-million-a-year business (just in India?). Profits are projected to reach six billion in the next few years.

Commercial surrogacy faces many moral and ethical criticisms. One very important criticism is the notion that this practice completely exploits the poor for the good of the wealthy. Women are being used for their bodies. Just as in the illegal practice of organ trafficking, body parts are being harvested for cash. However, despite these moral and ethical dilemmas the industry does have a major impact on India’s economy. India has sped through several stages of development in the last few years, with the development of major consumer industries, and zoomed straight into a service economy. A service economy is an economy in which there is an increased importance of the service sector in industrialized economies. The service, in this case, is human retail. According to Slate, India is romanced by the idea of selling human capital as its next great service; locals provide much needed services for the new global economy. However, the exploitation of the poor for the good of India’s economy divides the country into two entities: a kernel of world-class modernity, and a historic culture of poverty that has been stagnating for generations.

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