A 37-year-old Maldivian woman who preserved her embryo at a well-known fertility hospital in Kerala in 2013 is now trying in vain to get it back. With about 120 fibroid in her uterus and after three failed IVF attempts, doctors had advised her surrogacy .The couple was on the verge of having the embryo transferred to a surrogate when the central government in October 2015, disallowed surrogacy for foreign nationals and even people of Indian origin but holding foreign citizenship.
She is among several foreigners whose embryos are lying idle in fertility clinics due to the government stopping all surrogate embryo transfers for non-Indian passport holders. Even in fertility clinics in Kerala where few foreigners come on “medical visa for surrogacy“ there are two to three such frozen embryos on an average in each clinic, while in the clinics in metros it touches 20 to 30 each.
“The Maldivian requested us to export the embryo but since it is not permitted, now the woman has requested us to place the embryo in her uterus. It is a tough situation to be in and we have two to three more such frozen embryos of foreigners in our hospital,“ said Dr Swati Singh, CRAFT Hospital & Research Centre, Thrissur.
As per Indian Society for Third Party Assisted Reproduction (INSTAR), there are around 1,200 IVF clinics in India and most of them deal in surrogacy too. But nearly 100 are majorly into surrogacy .“Thousands of embryos of fo reigners in fertility centres across the county are now lying idle and unused, with each centre reporting a minimum of 10 frozen embryos of foreigners. Though in a month, we get two to three requests to return the embryo, we have to refuse as Indian laws don’t allow export of embryos,“ said Shivani Gaur, director, SCI Healthcare, New Delhi. They have so far handled 1,200 surrogacy cases, mostly of foreigners.
“We have about 30 frozen embryos of foreign patients, mostly in the age group of 28 and 45, with us. Many ask us to preserve the embryo in the hope that the policy may change, while we don’t know what to do with the embryos of those not renewing as we can’t dispose it without their consent.The embryos are stuck in no man’s land,“ Dr. Samit Sekhar, executive director, Kiran Infertility Centre, with hospitals at Gurgaon and Hyderabad. Their centre has handled 1,300 surrogacy cases of foreigners, mostly from US, Canada, Australia, UK and Hong Kong.
Foreigners preferred coming for surrogacy to India as the cost is much lower than that in, say, US or Australia. While the complete cost comes to Rs 30 lakh in India, in US it is about Rs 90 lakh and Australia Rs 40 lakh.
While doctors rue about foreign embryos being stuck in their clinics, Indian Council of Medical Research’s director general Soumya Swaminathan said, “Foreign couples who have frozen embryos in India can approach the state health authorities seeking permission to export the embryo and it shall be considered on a case-by-case basis“.
However, infertility specialists say that this is a far cry from reality. “When foreign patients approach for export of their embryos, most often they are denied permission by the authorities“, said INSTAR, India, president Dr Himanshu Bavishi.
No surprise then, Australians, who as per Client Nationality Industry Survey 2012-2015 on surrogacy clients, come second when it comes to travelling to other countries for a surrogate child, are now lobbying with the Indian government to return the embryos of their nationals in fertility clinics here. Israelis lead with 2,404 surrogacies, followed by Australians, 2048, and Americans 1,940.
“Many embryos of Australians are stuck here and we are lobbying with the Indian government to allow export of embryos. Their embryos are blocked by policy that is not backed by a law at a time when people are crossing borders to have a child,“ said Sam Everingham, global director, Families Through Surrogacy, an Australiabased organisation that works to develop a global community of well-informed parents through surrogacy.