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An Introduction to Reproductive Tourism Including Surrogate Pregnancy

Posted Oct 13 2011 12:00am

I have posted a number of previous notes about medical tourism but a variation on this theme, reproductive tourism, has now come to my attention. Below is an excerpt from an article about this topic from the Orchid Cellmark web site (see: Reproductive Tourism ). This commercial lab focuses on paternity and forensic DNA testing, hence its interest in this topic. By the way, LabCorp has again extended a tender offer for Orchid Cellmark (see: LabCorp again extends Orchid Cellmark tender offer )

REPRODUCTIVE TOURISM  (Tuesday, September 27, 2011)

Let's imagine that you and your spouse have been unable to conceive a child, and that your doctor has recommended in vitro fertilization (IVF). You have learned that in the United States, IVF will cost between $10,000-$15,000 for a single cycle. However, you have found that by traveling to another country, you could obtain what appears to be the same service for about $3,000. Would you have the procedure performed in the US, or travel abroad?

Each year thousands of people travel to other countries in order to procure reproductive services - IVF, surrogate pregnancy, and other assisted reproductive technology treatments. The term for this choice is "reproductive tourism." A popular destination for Canadian and US citizens is India, where the growing industry is only lightly regulated, and also relatively inexpensive. It has been reported that reproductive tourism in India is now a half-a-billion-dollar-a-year industry, with surrogacy services offered in 300+ clinics across the country....


There are several groups of people who take part in reproductive tourism. Here are three: 1) People who require assistance to have a child, and wish to pay discounted rates, 2) women who require IVF, but have needs that are restricted in their country (maternity age restrictions, embryo sex-preference restrictions, etc.), 3) people who have chosen surrogacy, and wish to accomplish this outside of the laws or stigmas within their homelands.


There are many questions surrounding the subject of reproductive tourism. Here are three:

1) Are all the reproductive operations throughout the world equipped to safely perform procedures? With few regulations, the safety and quality of work performed at many of these clinics is uncertain...

2) Are surrogate mothers treated and compensated fairly? This query is the heart of the controversy surrounding surrogacy. Are women who choose to become surrogates in third world countries, with few economic opportunities and very little education, making informed decisions? It doesn't seem likely, and in countries where compensated surrogacy is illegal, the answer is unknown.

3) Are international immigration laws standardized to accommodate the situations and technologies of 2011? Some countries, such as England, consider the woman who bears a child to be the mother, and her husband to be the father. Clearly, this makes no allowances for surrogacy - either traditional (using a woman's own eggs that have been fertilized with donated sperm through IVF) or gestational (using donated eggs and sperm, where the gestational host bears no genetic ties to the baby). In such cases, even an immigration dna test may not point to the contracting parents. Some countries, such as the Ukraine, have attempted to adapt to these issues by naming the contracting parents on the birth certificate. Other countries have responded by refusing to recognize such documents, and by insisting on parental dna tests for children born abroad before conferring citizenship, or even the right to enter the parents' native country.

Sorry for the long excerpt but I found this article to be very interesting. Here are some of the issues that jumped off the page for me:

  • Some people with a sexual preference for a child may be traveling outside of the reach of U. S. laws (see: The End-of-Men and the Role of the Clinical Labs in This Culture Shift ).
  • At least in my mind, surrogacy implies that the fetus is being carried by a woman other than the "intended mother." The "intended mother" may donate her own eggs that have been fertilized with donated sperm through IVF (traditional surrogacy) or both the sperm and eggs may come from other individuals (gestational surrogacy).
  • Major concerns have arisen about whether surrogate mothers are being fairly treated in developing countries.
  • There is also a great deal of ambiguity and potential legal barriers when a couple returns to the U.S. with an infant-in-arms without a passport.
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