Bad business

Are American couples buying babies in India?

In a new TV show, VICE sends a reporter to find out

Photos by Benjamin Lanpher and Ryan Nethery

Infertility is expensive. A single round of in vitro fertilization will set you back $11,000 or $12,000; most couples require multiple rounds. Surrogacy–in which a couple implants their own egg and sperm in another woman, who carries the baby for the full term–is even more costly. In the U.S., the whole process can cost more than $120,000. It’s also illegal in most states.

Thousands of American couples are looking abroad for cheaper and less legally tricky options. In India, commercial surrogacy is fully legal, and the costs are dramatically lower–about $30,000 to $60,000 at a high-end clinic.



Reporter Gianna Toboni explores this burgeoning–and unregulated– industry in the latest episode of VICE on HBO. She travels to India and introduces viewers to doctors, medical directors and “agents” who troll the slums looking for desperate women they can recruit as surrogates. The testimony of the surrogates themselves is, predictably, heartbreaking. “There are no alternatives,” says one woman. Another breaks down crying, “I have no fortune in my life.”

Toboni shows viewers the full range of clinics– from massive “fertility centers” where doctors are performing C-sections every ten minutes to a creepy back-alley operation that promises to deliver babies in less than nine months. (Exactly where they find them is a bit hazy.) When Toboni goes undercover as an American woman looking for a baby, things get even weirder. One agent actually brings a baby to their meeting and offers to “make a deal” right then and there.

“That’s what happens when surrogacy is commercialized,” warns Toboni. “Businesses start undercutting one another and next thing you know, we’re bidding for the cheapest baby.”

The episode, “Outsourcing Embryos,” is available on HBO from Friday at 11 pm.

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