ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Fertility Industry and Egg Donors

The unregulated fertility industry in India is allowed to get away with murder.

Two years ago, 17-year-old Sushma Pandey, a scrapyard worker earning Rs 4,500 a month, died after complaining of abdominal pain in Mumbai. Two days earlier, she had donated eggs or oocytes at a fertility clinic, the third time in 18 months. This means she had begun donating eggs when she was barely 16. Her death became news recently when the Bombay High Court, which was hearing the case, reprimanded the police for not investigating the role of the fertility clinic in her death. There is no law in India regarding oocyte donation – the Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) (Regulation) Bill 2010 is still hanging in the balance. However, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has laid down rules that specify that the donor must not be less than 21 years old and no more than six extractions are permitted in a lifetime. The teenager’s death is a textbook case involving economic vulnerability, ignorance, touts, middlemen, disregard for the woman’s health by fertility clinics and police apathy.

ART is a boon for those who want children but for various reasons cannot have them in the natural way and prefer not to adopt. At the same time, given the sophistication of the technology and the costs, fertility clinics have used ART to push for one kind of medical tourism. While the media periodically carries reports of how urban, well-educated young women turn to egg donation to make easy money, like surrogate motherhood, this is an area that, in actuality, overwhelmingly draws the poor. In Pandey’s case, the clinic has said that she used a false identity and gave a fake PAN card that showed her to be a major. She was escorted to and from the clinic by three persons but her family claims ignorance not only of her visits to the clinic but also of the Rs 75,000 (Rs 25,000 per extraction) due to her. Whatever the truth of the last, it is clear that this case is just one in a much larger racket involving other young women.

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