Indian IVF clinics are glad to showcase their bevies of happy surrogate mothers who have become pregnant for foreign couples, heterosexual and homosexual, and singles, male and female, who want children. But not necessarily the surrogates who die.
This week 30-year-old Premila Vaghela, who took on the job to support her own two children, died in the eighth month of her pregnancy of unexplained complications. She had come to her IVF clinic, Pulse Women’s Hospital, in Ahmedabad, in the state of Gujarat, for a routine check-up when she had a convulsion and collapsed. The doctors at Pulse quickly did an emergency caesarean. As the Times of India noted, “she completed her job” and a baby was delivered. Pulse then shipped her off to another hospital where she died. The child is intended for an American woman named Helen.
In the quaint lingo of the Indian media, it was noted that “Premila paid the price of offering herself as surrogate with her life. Dr. Manish Banker of Pulse Hospital… said that they are clueless as to why Premila developed a fatal health incident.”
Pulse has an Australian connection, as it is described as an “international collaboration” with Melbourne IVF, one of Australia’s best-known clinics. Its website describes it as “a modern hospital whose mission is to provide high quality international standard health care that meets the needs and exceeds the expectation of the people.”
The fate of Mrs. Vaghela is a stark reminder that death is one of the hazards of being a surrogate mother in India. Had this happened in a developed country like the US or Australia, a major investigation would be launched. But this is unlikely to happen in Ahmedabad, where the police have already described the incident as an accidental death, pending a post-mortem.
The pro-forma contract displayed by Pulse on its website is loaded in favour of the genetic parents and the hospital against the surrogate mother — who may not understand the legalese or the dangers involved. The woman has to agree to the most intrusive limitation of her lifestyle and even to accept foetal reduction (see Pulse’s video) if necessary. Since up to three embyros are transferred at a time — not international best practice — this is quite possible.
The contract also states that “the Surrogate and her Husband agree to assume all medical, financial, and psychological risks and to release, the Genetic Parents, their attorney(s), the Treating Doctor, other professionals contemplated herein and/or involved in any aspect of the surrogacy arrangement, and each said person’s agents and employees from any legal liability except professional malpractice (malfeasance or negligence).” In short, Mrs. Vaghela’s impoverished husband can only seek compensation if he can prove negligence on the doctor’s part. His chances of success are vanishingly small.
In a chilling section of the contract headed “life support”, the surrogate and her husband agree that “if she is seriously injured or suffers a life-‐threatening instance during her third trimester of pregnancy”, then she “will be sustained with life support equipment to protect the fetus’ viability and insure [sic] a healthy birth on the Genetic Parents’ behalf”. It is the mirror image of abortion, with the interests of the clients’ baby trumping the mother’s.
“Surrogacy has picked up majorly all over Gujarat,” notes the Times. “The decent money offered by couples, majority of who are NRGs and foreigners, attracts many women from poor socio-economic backgrounds.” Mrs. Vaghela’s husband Karsan is a manual labourer. Her sister told the Indian Express, “She was precious to us. Now we cannot do anything about it. Please leave.”