The Tyranny of IVF

Almost two years after she died, no one involved in the death of 17-year-old Mumbai woman Sushma Pandey is facing charges. Ms. Pandey, who was unmarried, was earning 4,500 rupees a month working in a scrap depot. She had donated eggs three times in 18 months at an IVF clinic, the Rotunda Center for Human Reproduction. Two days after the third donation, she complained of severe abdominal pain. She died on August 10, 2010. At the time of her first donation, she was probably about 15 years old.

The story appears to have appeared in the press only because charges against her former boss were dropped in Bombay High Court.

The Rotunda Center describes itself as a “world-renowned infertility clinic”, a “center of excellence in donor egg IVF and gestational surrogacy” (see video below), and “the only clinic in India that is LGBT-friendly”. Its medical director, Dr. Gautam Allahbadia, was responsible for the first successful surrogate pregnancy of twins for a gay couple in India.

Newspaper accounts describe a bewildering number of people involved in the death, but no one seems to be responsible for it. Ms. Pandey’s parents did not know that she was donating. Sunil Chaumal, the 49-year-old owner of the scrap depot, was charged with culpable homicide but has been discharged for lack of evidence. A woman named Noorjahan accompanied her to the clinic and posed as her guardian but seems to have vanished. Ms. Pandey stayed in the house of a man named Iqbal Hussein and was driven to the clinic by another man named Rakesh Bhat, but neither of them has been charged. Dr. Allahbadia claims that the girl presented fake papers which showed that she was above the legal age limit and that his clinic cannot be blamed.

The fee for egg donation is 25,000 rupees. Since Ms. Pandey donated three times, she should have earned 75,000 rupees. The money seems to have disappeared.

The case highlights the fact that India has hundreds of IVF clinics which operate with hardly any regulation. A bill is being studied, but the Indian legal system works at a glacial pace and it is still far from becoming law. This death suggests that criminal gangs are dangling the carrot of easy money in front of potential egg donors, regardless of their age.

Jennifer Lahl, producer of the documentary Eggsploitation, said that Ms. Pandey’s death was typical. “What happened to Sushma Pandey is happening to women every day, all over the world. The infertility industry knows the seriousness of the health risks, yet objects to any oversight, to long-term studies, and to regulation, simply because it will compromise their profits.”


Michael Cook likes bad puns, bushwalking and black coffee. He did a BA at Harvard University in the US where it was good for networking, but moved to Sydney where it wasn’t. He also did a PhD on an obscure corner of Australian literature. He has worked as a book editor and magazine editor and has published articles in magazines and newspapers in the US, the UK and Australia.

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