Oprah on Renting Wombs in India: “It’s beautiful”

Posted by Jamie D. Brooks October 11, 2007
Biopolitical Times
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On Tuesday, an estimated eight million viewers of the Oprah Winfrey Show were informed that the new phenomenon of Americans going to India to hire surrogates on the cheap is not exploitation. Rather, it’s a warm and fuzzy example of “women helping women.” Furthermore, it’s a “confirmation of just how close our countries can be.” In fact, the couple who provided the gametes and the money are “cultural ambassadors” to India, and benefactors of the women whose wombs they rent.

The hour-long segment was anchored by Lisa Ling of ABC's The View and National Geographic Channel’s Explorer, who traveled to the Akansha Fertility Clinic in Anand, India with the featured couple, Jennifer and Kendall. Their story starts out as a familiar one: They depleted their $25,000 of savings in their attempts to have a biological child. But then they discovered that the fertility treatment and surrogacy that cost upwards of $70,000 in the United States can be had in India for about $12,000. So they traveled to India to undergo the in vitro procedures and meet the surrogate, Sangita.

Two months later, Oprah’s cameras film Jennifer, Kendall, and Lisa watching as an ultrasound displays the child’s heartbeats. Jennifer cries tears of happiness; Sangita keeps her face and head covered with a scarf so that her family members won’t learn what she’s doing.

When Lisa asks Jennifer whether she agrees with those who consider arrangements like this one to be exploitation, Jennifer tearfully and indignantly responds, “Sangita and I give each other a life that neither of us could achieve on our own.” Jennifer is referring to the money – approximately $6,000 U.S. – that Sangita and other Indian surrogates earn for womb rental. She is correct in pointing out that this buys them better housing and bigger kitchens; that it’s a sum of money that they “couldn’t have earned in a lifetime.”  

Surrogates, who must be younger than 45 and have at least one living child, are required to stay in a dormitory attached to the clinic for the nine months that they carry the child they will hand over.  In perhaps the most poignant segment of the show, one surrogate weeps because she misses her son back home. Another says that she will find it difficult to give up the baby she is carrying. “It is up to the child to remember us,” she says. “We will remember the child for the rest of our lives.”