What is done to the surrogate is shrouded in silence: Pinki Virani

In her latest book, author Pinki Virani takes up the issue of the colonisation of women’s bodies through IVF and surrogacy.

Written by Anuradha Mascarenhas | Updated: September 4, 2016 4:17 pm
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Your new book, Politics Of the Womb: The Perils Of IVF, Surrogacy and Modified Babies (POW) takes on the business of baby-making. What made you write this book?

Research began several years ago for POW — an acronym for the book as much as for the prisoner of war that is a woman’s body. It is converted into an artificial-reproduction war zone with hyper-medicalisation and hormonal violence. I came across a small news item that said America’s National Centre for Disease Control had begun receiving reports of broken babies [physically and mentally malformed] post-IVF birth. I began intensively hunting for proof of the risks to IVF mothers. POW now places in the public domain, all the investigation and analysis along with the evidence from experts from Australia, Canada, China, Denmark, Europe, India, Israel, Sweden, the UK, and the US. Every person seeking to further their bloodline through “assisted” reproduction needs to know that there are very real risks of deadly diseases, deformities and disorders.

The book also refers to the futility of artificial assistance if the father has passed on his genetic infertility to the IVF child.

Ironical, isn’t it? After all that a woman’s body and psyche is put through, she is made to feel like a failure for not reproducing naturally. Then, that child is at all sorts of risk. The very “miracle” which forced it into being could also inherit its parents’ infertility.

The Indian Council of Medical Research has advised against implanting embryos in women over 50. Recently, doctors raised concerns about IVF treatment after a couple in their 70s had a child.

Look at it from the child’s point of view — parents who are the age of grandparents. POW has a special chapter on the more dreadful dangers to the child if the father’s sperm is more than 40 years old.

An Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) bill — to regulate thousands of infertility clinics that have mushroomed in the country — was drafted in 2010. Set to be revised again, the bill will frame regulations for IVF, embryo transfers and sperm banks. But will it be enough to check unscrupulous practices?

All laws are dead unless they are laws which live and breathe continuously. And a living law is only that which is practised rigorously, and those who break it are punished regularly, with full public knowledge. This needs to happen urgently — there are just too many mom-and-pop shops calling themselves fertility clinics. Some of these bad eggs posing as experts are wilfully damaging the health of Indian women and newborns across classes. One’s wealth does not shield them from the downsides of aggressive-IVF and hyper-ovulation where female eggs are being extracted either without their knowledge or some cash payment is used to justify “informed consent”. How much is this consent when they are not informed about those very real cancer risks?

In the present form of the draft bill, regulating surrogacy has been labelled by several doctors as a draconian measure.

Those who want to rent out a part of a poor woman’s body for their own financial benefit are not likely to want altruistic surrogacy, are they? What is done to the surrogate is shrouded in silence. People who think that they can purchase parenthood through commercial surrogacy might wish to take just that one crucial step back to examine the extent to which the repro-tech industry is reinforcing societal pressures. Which, in turn, is forcing them to buy into the worst kind of patriarchy. It turns them into inflictors of harm upon another child’s biological mother. And putting their own child’s birth mother in long-term harm’s way.

Will imprisonment clauses, penalties and fines help? Every new bill seems to be coming up with them.

We need laws towards patient-protection for the medical and health aspects of all Indians. We need laws even if they might send those practices underground. If we did not, we would have commercial organ sales, or big pharmaceutical companies trying out untested drugs on the poorest of our poor while throwing some money their way.

Your book says that it is time for the medical fraternity to take a long, very hard, look within.

There are many doctors themselves who are deeply concerned about that sub-section of fertility clinics which are into genetic theft and chicanery. Or those who have turned a woman and her child into an “IVF-package”. There are “experts” who instantly put the woman through several, aggressive IVF cycles even when the couple is actually not infertile.