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More and more couples finding surrogates in India

While medical ethicists continue to debate the morality of the practice, couples from the United States and elsewhere are increasingly turning to India for the ultimate outsource — surrogate mothers.

One such couple is Lisa and Brian Switzer. After spending seven years and $90,000 trying to get pregnant, the American couple last year engaged a surrogate in India to carry their child.

In July, they will return to India to await delivery of the twins the surrogate is carrying for them. They went to India for the same reason many corporations do — it’s cheaper.

“Truthfully, we just looked at the price of what it would cost,” Lisa Switzer told TODAY co-host Matt Lauer on Wednesday in New York.

In the United States, the couple said, they were told it would cost $80,000 for a surrogate pregnancy. In India, they will pay about $30,000, with $7,000 going to the surrogate and the rest to doctors and travel.

The Switzers married when she was 32 and he 28. By last year, as she was turning 40, they had given up hope of Lisa's getting pregnant and carrying a child herself. The final blow was being told that her uterus was not up to the task.

Before turning to India, they had planned to use Brian’s sister as a surrogate. She was eager to help, but before the procedure could be carried out, she was hit by a drunken driver in an auto accident and suffered back injuries that would prevent her from going through a pregnancy.

Money was tight, and the couple sold their home and Brian worked two jobs to pay for a surrogate pregnancy. With the price so high in the U.S.,  “We really had to find a viable solution that wasn’t as expensive as being in the United States,” Lisa Switzer told Lauer.

Some couples find clinics, which are located in every major Indian city, on their own. The Switzers found theirs through a service called Planet Hospital, one of several such agencies that match would-be parents with young Indian women for whom the income from one pregnancy is the equivalent of years of regular wages.

Some 35 percent of Indians subsist on less than $1 a day, and the annual per capita income in the country is around $500. Surrogates must have children of their own to ensure they are fully aware of what it takes to go through a pregnancy, and the money a woman can earn from a surrogacy can make an enormous difference to her own children.

Booming business
Since the practice was legalized in India in 2002, it has grown into an industry estimated to be worth nearly $500 million. Critics say that the business is not regulated by the government and point to an infant mortality rate that is 69 times higher than it is in the United States.

Others are concerned that poor Indian women are being exploited.

The Switzers admitted to having their own doubts.

“I was skeptical, absolutely,” Brian Switzer said. “You’re looking at going halfway around the world, and anybody asking for money up-front for anything over the Internet is something you want to look at, because anybody can throw up a Web page and look legitimate.”

Their fears disappeared when they went to India and found highly trained doctors who spoke English and facilities that provided quality care for the women carrying babies for clients from around the world.

Lisa Switzer said that the infant mortality rate is misleading.

“That statistic is based on the entire nation, and many women in India do not have any health care whatsoever,” she said. “These surrogates have nutritionists, they have nurses they see every two weeks, I get ultrasounds all the time. The fear factor really went down when you really see what goes into their health.”

The downside, Brian Switzer said, is the distance that makes it impossible to be in personal contact with the surrogate.

“It is a bad thing, because we are a bit disconnected,” he said. “We can get e-mails and they’ll tell us she’s doing fine. We know she’s doing fine, but it would be nice to watch the baby grow and feel it kick.”

It’s a (secret)!
Another thing they don’t know is the sex of their twins. In India, it is illegal to tell parents the gender of their baby, a law passed to prevent the selective abortion of female embryos.

“We’re still fighting over names,” Lisa Switzer laughed.

The twins are due in August, but the couple has been told they may arrive early, so they will travel to India in July to be present for the birth. Unlike in the United States, where surrogates may decide to keep the babies they have carried to term, surrogates in India sign away all rights to the babies.

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