At a webinar on ‘Surrogacy and Facets of Death’ organised by ICASM, Paris, France on 1st July 2021,  Dr. Suryanarayanan, Associate Professor at Centre for Women’s Studies, University of Hyderabad (UoH) spoke from her fieldwork with surrogate women. Death, she argued, featured in several facets during and post surrogacy in the experience of the surrogate mothers in India. The surrogate mother’s first encounter with the word ‘death’ is when they are told in no uncertain terms by the doctors that they could die during surrogacy and if that happens it was not the clinic’s responsibility. The only thing going on in their mind at that time was; the money and a willingness to sacrifice their life for the sake of their family. Recently in 2019, a 42-year-old surrogate mother, a widow died at AIIMS, New Delhi in her 17th week of pregnancy of multiple co-morbidities. The commercial nature of the surrogacy, her age and morbidities were a clear violation of the Surrogate (Regulation) Bill 2016.

Several of the 45 surrogate mothers interviewed shared either witnessing or experiencing unrecorded deaths or near-death situations. Unnecessary excess embryo transfers followed by in-utero reductive abortion has caused serious health problems to surrogate mothers. Almost all surrogate mothers had developed morbidities post-surrogacy and some severe diseases such as HIV or cancer. Several cases of haemorrhage followed by removal of uterus. The ‘risk of death’ was a concern that women shared in their reluctance in recommending or taking any other woman for surrogacy.

As one such mother put it: “If I take someone and she dies, her children will be orphaned. How can I live with that guilt? Throughout my life it will haunt me. If I die, that’s ok, behind me my children will get the money. I can take that risk for myself. But I cannot put another person at risk on my responsibility” 

A majority (62%) of the surrogate mothers said that they felt sad, nervous, or depressed post-surrogacy either frequently or extremely frequently. This was due to having witnessed death or near-death situation of a surrogate mother, near-death experience themselves, craving to know the whereabouts of the surrogate children, their own  disturbed children and slipping back into deeper poverty. Given the high death rate among surrogate mothers, India must review its surrogacy policy more rigorously.

Surrogacy jeopardizes the health and lives of surrogate mothers. But this aspect is systematically ignored. This webinar offered more evidence of this hidden reality. Ana-Luana Stoicea-Deram, member of the Collective for the request of the Person (CoRP) and co-president of ICASM highlighted surrogacy as a violence against women. Marya Dymitriyeva, a radical feminist and human rights activist in Ukraine, member of the Democracy Development Centre (Ukraine) shared her findings from her study of the stranded babies born to surrogate mothers in Ukraine during the lockdown.