There are now up to 1,000 clinics, all entirely unregulated, in the country, many specialising in helping Britons become parents.
Couples and single people are paying an average of £25,000 a time to have children, getting around rules in the UK which make commercial surrogacy illegal.
It is estimated that 2,000 births to surrogate mothers took place in the country last year, with most experts agreeing that Britain is the biggest single source of people who want to become parents in this way. Britain may account for as many as 1,000 births last year in India. In contrast there were 100 surrogate births recorded in Britain last year.
An investigation by The Sunday Telegraph has found:
* Indian authorities now believe the industry is worth as much as £1.5 billion each year, is growing rapidly, and say it needs regulating urgently;
* Doctors who spoke to this newspaper told of British women who have babies through surrogates to avoid being pregnant and childbirth, raising fears of a “wombs to rent” culture;
* Women in India are being paid up to £6,000 to donate eggs and carry babies, something British women are banned from doing;
* Bankers, senior civil servants, executives at multinational companies and even NHS doctors have become parents through surrogacy in India, according to British doctors.
The sheer scale of the “baby factory” phenomenon is now causing concern at the highest levels of the Indian government. The country’s leading expert on the infertility industry said the industry dwarfs any in the rest of the world.
Dr Radhey Sharma, who was commissioned by the Indian government to study the boom in fertility treatments in preparation for legislation to regulate the industry, disclosed the findings of his research and said nobody in the country actually knew the scale of the “baby factories”.
“Nobody in India actually knows for sure how many babies are born through these commercial enterprises and how many places are involved,” he said.
“I have the database of some 600 IVF clinics in India, but that is not a complete list. There could be around 400 more clinics operating without any regulation.”
A report in a respected Indian newspaper earlier this year claimed the city of Hyderabad has at least 250 clinics that claim to offer IVF but only 11 of which were voluntarily registered with the authorities.
Dr Sharma said: “Nobody could have envisaged the sharp increase in Indian surrogacy for foreigners and we accept this will not slow down, but in fact get more popular.”
Dr Sharma has chaired a committee which has drawn up proposals for industry standard. It would guarantee safety standards for the first time, outlaw sex selection, forbid women capable of childbirth making use of surrogacy and set up the first register of clinics, with a regime of inspections and sanctions for those which fail them.
However the legislation has yet to be considered by India’s parliament and it could be many years before it becomes law. Dr Sharma’s committee has called for urgent action.
Clinics in India offer fertility treatments which would-be parents in Britain would either be unable to have for legal reasons, or would face lengthy waits on the NHS to obtain.
One clinic in New Delhi, The Birthplace of Joy, said that their patients were “100 per cent foreign” and estimated that as many as half of them were homosexual couples wanting to become parents.
At another clinic in New Delhi, Dr Shivani Gour, the director of Surrogacy Centre India, said her clients are overwhelmingly middle class, listing “IT professionals, Home Office staff, doctors from the NHS, people from multinationals, bankers, businessmen”. In March her clinic was responsible for 26 surrogate babies, one of whom went to Britain, eight to the US, four to Australia and the others to countries including Canada, Japan and Spain. In other months the British figure has been much higher.
“Gay people are just so keen and so desperate to have a family,” she said. “Many of the people say that as soon as they realised they were gay, the saddest thing was that they knew they would never have children.”
She added: “I would say to those people who call what we do immoral, that I feel very sorry for you, god bless you, but you are ignorant.”
Among her British patients are Stephen Hill, who earlier this month became father to twins Alex and Amelia, and is waiting in New Delhi to be reunited with his civil partner Johnathon Busher, at their home in the West Midlands. They chose the egg donor for their twins, and the babies were carried by another woman, before Mr Hill and Mr Busher were able to meet them for the first time.
“I was overwhelmed,” said Mr Busher. “I burst out crying like a baby myself and fell apart, and I couldn’t stop crying. We both found it very hard to keep it together and then Stephen cried and cried.”
A doctor at another leading clinic was willing to tell The Sunday Telegraph of what he said was a disturbing trend of couples who have babies through surrogacy because the woman does not want the stress of childbearing.
Dr Anoop Gupta, director of Delhi IVF and Fertility Centre, refuses to offer such treatments, but spoke out of concern that others in the unregulated fertility industry do.
“These women have the ability to conceive naturally, but for various reasons turn to IVF,” he said. “I do not encourage such people because mentally they are not good or fit. They are capable of giving birth, but the woman is worried about her figure or her career. We have come across several couples like this.
“I do not entertain these wealthy women who want to buy into a remarkable medical procedure and have babies through these means, even though they are able to carry babies themselves.”
There is also concern at the toll that becoming parents can have on Britons, as they face long waits in India to gain citizenship and passports for their babies.
The proposed regulations for the industry would effectively block British people from becoming parents through surrogacy by making it compulsory for babies to have instant citizenship of their parents’ home countries as soon as they are born.
Currently British authorities can take up to a month before granting British citizenship to the children and weeks more to issue passports.
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