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

Posted by Jamie D. Brooks on October 11th, 2007

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.”

Like this on FacebookTweet this link Digg link Newsvine link reddit link

Posted in Assisted Reproduction, Jamie D. Brooks's Publications, Media Coverage, Reproductive Justice, Health & Rights, Surrogacy


Add a Comment
  1. Comment by Noah, Jan 7th, 2012 10:51pm

    The slave girl gives birth to her mistress, one of the portents of the hour - Nabi Muhammad (pbuh)

  2. Comment by Michael, Sep 2nd, 2010 12:43am

    The costs in North America is simply to high plus no one wants to be a sarrogate here. If 6000 make a difference in someones life and bring happiness to the couple then what is the problem.

    It's like someone paying you 500000 here to carry a child. Think about it. Win win.

  3. Comment by Rani, Feb 2nd, 2009 5:10am

    Hey Swaminarayan,

    It's obvious that you're a man. As long as there is no danger of being forced to sell your own body at market value, you will support "trade" of women's reproduction. Doubtlessly, you also support prostitution and trafficking of women and children as sexual slaves. Have you forced your wife to undergo pregnancy so that you can line your pockets with money from the sale of her child? Perhaps you should consider it. Or maybe you already rent her out by the hour?

    You defend capitalism, despite calling yourself a "low-caste Indian." Your pathetic pandering will not prevent the downtrodden masses of India from rising up against economic and social oppression. When we do, those like you will be summarily executed.

    Nothing is more disgusting than a class traitor.

  4. Comment by Amanda, Aug 6th, 2008 7:44pm

    This is such an awesome thing that was brought to light. Surrogacy- Women helping women. You know, God may not bless each woman with the ability to bear children...but he did bless us with technology. The same technology that gives man the ability to use surrogacy so that another human being can carry a biological child for someone else. These parents are so grateful to the women of India. And if helping to BETTER the women of India's lives, by giving them money, then so be it. Would anyone have a problem if the women of India had absolutely no food, and the U.S. women could provide them with food instead of money? The point is, the U.S. women are giving something to these women that will improve their quality of life 100%. The women of India are giving the U.S. women something they desperately need in thier life, a FAMILY.

    I think it takes a very special, selfless person to be able to give the gift of life to someone else. If some people want to see this as a "business transaction with no emotion involved" then go ahead, be BLIND. The fact of the matter is, this whole situation is such a miracle!

  5. Comment by Jen, Mar 17th, 2008 2:20pm

    Surrogacy is an amazing and wonderful thing. I've never met anyone OPPOSED to it who had problems conceiving.

    And I want to say "THANK YOU!!" to the person who commented early on, pointing out how horrible it is to talk about these Indian women as if it weren't a choice they made. People become surrogates here in the US, too, and it's a choice.

    Some people just need to learn more before they have such harsh criticisms.

  6. Comment by Amanda, Feb 28th, 2008 4:18pm

    Nightmarish. Yes, it may sound cute and wonderful now, people getting the babies of their dreams and all, but it is nothing more than pure exploitation that will harm in the long run. Like, remember asbestos? How it kept everything from catching on fire? Well, later on you die of lung cancer.

    'Women helping women"- not at all. Its "Human organs being rented out by women". These Americans are not seeing these Indian women as WOMEN, but as vessels for their product children. And what will stop people from twenty years down the road having a "wet-nurse"-like relationship with these people- I mean seriously, its the end of baby fat and lumpy breasts forever if you have enough money to bypass the system.

    Also, what about INDIAN children? These clinics harp on how much care these AMERICAN babies are getting- yes, they are more important than natural Indian babies for one reason only- "Profit." That's it.

    As an American woman I urge you to stop this exploitation. If you want to have a "Women helping women" relationship across the globe, donate to a women's health clinic. Donate to something that will enrich that woman's LIFE, like her own business, or healthcare for her children, NOT her organs. You're seeing her for her biological self, not her individual self.
    I am SHOCKED that Oprah finds this a miracle.

  7. Comment by R, Dec 14th, 2007 8:20am

    That's very nice. The nice american couple got there baby and a savings of $64 00 and a nice, warm feelings of generosity.

  8. Comment by Peter Dana, Oct 21st, 2007 4:31am

    So Oprah, I have an idea.
    You are helping the poor children in Africa obtain an education.
    As a fundraiser get some of the students to offer their wombs for rent.
    It wont hurt them..will it?
    Then there will be more cash and more young girls can get to your school.
    Get Madonna and Angelie to champion your cause.
    Im sure Dr Phil will help you too.

  9. Comment by Gershom, Oct 19th, 2007 6:54pm

    Well the real slaves are the children.

    Primal Wound by nancy it.

    Read adult adoptee blogs
    read adult adoptees via surrogacy blogs and see how they feel after being treated as a commodity.

    This is SICK. SICK. SICK.

  10. Comment by Swaminaryan, Oct 19th, 2007 11:31am

    To Ms. Maria Faer,

    Thank the Lord that Ms. Faer has chosen to "Take up the White Man's burden". Clearly us poor Inidan's, of the lesser race can't possibly make rational decisions about ourn bodies. What Ms. Faer doesn't realize that this "exploitation" occurs all over the world. It's called trading. Party A provides services to Party B in exhange for something of equal value. Do you think that human bodies are somehow excluded? Firefighters are more likely to have respiratory problems, coal miners have a higher accident rate, boxers make money by bruitalizing each other. Human being and yes that includes this oppressed Indian make rational decisions. The per capita income per year in India is ~$ 770. The surrogate has made her decision to take the risk of pregnancy for $ 6,000.

    I suggest that Ms. Faer find another group of people who need to saved. Perhaps your local firemen..?

    One of those lower caste Indians.


  11. Comment by Becky, Oct 19th, 2007 3:54am

    I had no idea about this going on here. It is not mentioned in the media at all. If it were, I'm pretty sure people would have the same reaction of disgust. Just one more example of the hierarchy and exploitation of developed vs. developing countries--how gains for women in developed countries in social status imply losses for less powerful women in developing countries.

  12. Comment by Maria Faer, Oct 11th, 2007 4:53pm

    "Wombs for Rent."
    Comments to the Oprah Show, October 9, 2007
    Maria Faer, Dr PH

    While I have not always agreed with the views expressed on Oprah, I have historically appreciated Oprah's relatively balanced reporting and clear communication of her support for social justice and women's rights. However, the tone, content and comments expressed by Oprah and Ms. Ling during the October 9th “Wombs for Rent” segment appalled and disgusted me.

    The segment reported on the hiring of poor women of India as birth surrogates for infertile American couples. The segment’s reporter, Lucy Ling, waxed enthusiastically about the practice as a solution for couples who cannot afford the going rate for surrogates in America or other industrialized nations.

    I viewed the use of these women as hired vessels quite differently than the views of Oprah or Ms. Ling. The victimization of the lowest members of Indian’s infamous caste society was extolled and supported by Oprah and Ms. Ling. Poor Indian women are used as hired vessels, offered a pittance of $5,000 - $6,000 for putting their lives, family and social reputation, and emotional health at considerable risk. The womb slaves are required to live away from their children and families; warehoused with other womb slaves; forced to lie to their own families; and face considerable social stigma if it is discovered that they are carrying another man’s child.

    While extolling the monetary value provided to these poor families and painting a rosy picture of how the money could be used to purchase the ultimate American dream—a brand new kitchen—Ms. LIng failed to provide any facts about the amount of payment to the physician or whether the surrogate or her family would be provided with ongoing health, economic or other benefits once her 9 months servitude was ended. The online story attempted to generate well-deserved sympathy for the plight of the infertile mother by emphasizing her arduous process-- her many-houred flights to India, the painful egg-harvesting process, etc. But there was little to no well-deserved sympathy for the tiny vessel who has been dehumanized by this process and puts her own life at considerable risk--with only a 44% success rate!

    The failure of either Ms. Ling or Oprah to raise the most obvious of questions in order to provide a more balanced perspective was astonishing. For example, neither the segment nor the online article answered critical ethical questions such as:
    1. What is the mortality or morbidity rate of the surrogates?
    2. What human rights or legal protections are afforded to the surrogates?
    3. Are the surrogates provided emergency and ongoing health care if there are pregnancy or birthing complications?
    4. Does an arms-length third-party oversee and audit the funds distribution to assure that the surrogates actually receive the money promised?
    5. Who protects the rights of the infertile couple, who are also victims in this wombs for hire travesty? Who assures that the woman's unused eggs or embryos are not harvested and stored and sold to Indian or other couples who want children of lighter color? Or to American couples who do not have viable eggs or sperms?
    6. How are the American couples assured that it is indeed their genetic child, not someone else’s embryo implanted?
    7. What happens if the womb slave dies in childbirth? Is there just compensation for her motherless children in that event or just an "oops" – another of the lower caste is out of the way!

    8. Is there postpartum, psychological or emotional support services for these poor women who cannot turn to their families or social networks for social support? Clearly someone thought they might be affected emotionally or one of the criteria for surrogate selection wouldn't have been "must have one or more children of her own."
    9. Why not go to other poor nations such as Africa, perhaps even the school started by Oprah, and recruit those young black women to be wombs for wealthy Americans? Hmm..that might not look too politically correct--i.e., famous black woman promoting use of poor black women as white woman's womb slave.
    10. Where does one draw the line between womb rental and organ purchasing? Let's offer a poor healthy child's family $ 5,000 for the child’s kidney or other organs? After all, perhaps a poor family would be willing to sacrifice one child or the other parent' health for a new kitchen?
    11. While Ms. Ling attempted to paint this as a local industry--and perhaps the physician is a good caring person with no self interests and no desire to take advantage of the lowest of the caste system--what happens when nefarious characters recognize the huge profits inherent in this outsourcing opportunity?

    In spite of these and other unanswered ethical considerations, I was shocked when the only comments expressed by Oprah or Ms. Ling were something to the effect that this was so wonderful because it was about women helping other women—a cultural connection had been made, it seemed!

    I did breathe one sigh of relief when the show finally concluded with the second segment—an interview with Martha Stewart’s daughter who, at age 42, has now decided that “her job” is to get pregnant and provide her mother with a grandchild. After the disgustingly narcisstic interview with Miss Stewart, I was expecting Oprah to surprise Miss Stewart with the ultimate gift--her own personal Indian womb slave. I imagined that the stage curtains would sweep open, the Oprah show’s interior designer Nate would be standing in a nursery freshly decorated with Martha Stewart's newest line of home furnishings and baby clothes, and then Oprah would introduce Miss Stewart to her very own womb slave. Ahhh, at last Miss Stewart's "job search" would be over. Tears would appear in the audience's eyes, Miss Stewart could make a baby, Martha Stewart could introduce her newest line of crap, and the womb slave would be given a $5,000 check for all to see---about the cost of Miss Stewart's outfit for the show! Fortunately, that did not occur live in front of the TV audience.

    In conclusion, I have entire sympathy for women who want children and are unable to conceive. What was horrifying about this show was the victimization of BOTH the infertile woman and the surrogate/womb/vessel. This is not the solution! I sincerely hope that Oprah will use her renowned ability to influence public discourse and promote social justice to produce a show that will offer a balanced and thoughtful discussion of the complex psychological, ethical and human rights considerations raised by infertility and Wombs for Rent. Likewise, I would like to see Oprah offer a scientific discussion of the possible causes and cures for infertility.

    Thank you, Maria Faer, DrPH



home | overview | blog | publications | about us | donate | newsletter | press room | privacy policy

CGS • 1120 University Ave, Suite 100, Berkeley, CA 94702 USA • • (p) 1.510.625.0819 • (F) 1.510.665.8760