The International Surrogacy Industry: Inside the Dark Realities

Gianna Toboni, the correspondent who flew to India for the latest Vice for HBO documentary, Outsourcing Embryos, examined the rapidly expanding gestational surrogacy market. Indian surrogacy firms are used by commissioning couples from the United States and Europe because they are up to six times less expensive than Western options. Companies that specialize in surrogacy make the claim that they provide ways for women to transcend poverty and that doing so through overseas surrogacy benefits all parties.

But Toboni and her group swiftly reveal the risky and unregulated nature of the sector. Women are frequently chosen from the slums, forced to sign documents they can’t understand, and then forced to live at a facility for a year. The surrogate is typically sent home without receiving the full payment she was promised after the baby is born through the cesarean section so that doctors can deliver as many babies as possible each day. We discussed the life of surrogate mothers, ways in which the business could be improved, and the growing black market for “extra” children with Toboni.

Do you think American and European couples who utilize Indian surrogacy agencies are clueless?

There are instances where American couples find the situation and the ethics a little odd, but they choose to ignore it since they don’t want to pay the higher prices in the United States. Many couples want their babies quickly and inexpensively; they don’t want to know what goes on behind the scenes. At the same time, some couples maintain a close relationship with the surrogate and take a very active role in ensuring that she is making choices rather than merely being used as a means of conception.

Surrogacy Dark Side
Surrogacy Dark Side

You go undercover at one point to investigate the incredibly affordable and dubious surrogacy agencies. I couldn’t determine whether your team’s investigation prowess allowed you to locate these organizations or if American couples frequently use them.

International surrogacy has huge financial and power inequities. Do you believe there’s a way to make it work?

when we reached these shady agencies with bad practices. And they concurred. One of the characters in the episode was a guy who not only said yes but then looked up their Facebook accounts and showed us the children his surrogates had conceived. They had social media proof, so it wasn’t like they were just bragging about their enterprise. Unfortunately, you can find these businesses if you’re an American and want to pay a low amount. We simply arrived and knocked on the door.

I believe there is a proper approach to go about it. Simply said, the Indian government hasn’t implemented any rules that would make this industry safe. Couples should put in more effort and there should be more rules. The couple must do extensive research to determine the level of pressure the surrogate is under. I once questioned a woman as she prepared to give birth on the delivery table if she had ever been concerned that she would pass away in the process. “Yeah, I know that’s a serious possibility,” she replied. The commissioning couples don’t seem to be aware of the surrogates’ medical predicament, but the surrogates do. These women are putting their lives in danger despite the good and hygienic medical facilities.

The surrogacy market is currently anything goes, which is incredibly unsettling. In India, legislation was put out in 2010, however, it hasn’t yet been adopted. The facilities we were able to visit didn’t have any instances of patients receiving subpar medical care. The number of embryos that can be implanted is unrestricted at the same moment.

To enhance the likelihood that the woman would become pregnant without wasting time or money, doctors have been known to implant more than one or two embryos. Sometimes, even if it’s their genetic offspring, the commissioning couple isn’t informed when more than one baby is born since they may only want one. I received an offer to buy one of these infants from the illicit market, as you can see in the video.

Were you taken aback by the underground market for these “extra” babies?

Although its existence didn’t surprise me, how simple it was for us to locate it. Before we traveled, we conducted an extensive study and met with numerous specialists. We had also heard reports that there were additional babies and orphanages with white babies in India. We were unable to locate any orphanages, so it was stunning when a couple over dinner offered me a kid for sale.

Do you find it challenging to keep the journalistic distance necessary for a work like this?

The most devastating experience I’ve ever been a part of was that particular scenario when I was operating secretly and offered the baby. The way they were thrusting this baby on us was terrible. They even suggested that we put down a deposit so that we may take it home within a few days. I’m sitting here thinking that I’m sure I could find a somebody to take care of this child.

But you can’t, since it’s also quite unlawful. Vice doesn’t call for the detached, icier tone that we’ve grown to associate with investigative work. You may stand there and declare, “This is seriously screwed up, and I want to take this baby somewhere safe.” It would be unfair to the content if I was unable to respond to what I’m seeing in a real way. In addition to being a journalist, I am also a person.

One thing that frequently occurs with these globally covered stories is that journalists go in, conduct the research, speak with locals, and then create something that the locals never see. Do you make an effort to explain to participants, such as the surrogate women, their part in bringing this story to light?

It’s crucial that we present people with the finished product when they take the time to tell us their story, which frequently requires them to neglect their families or their jobs.

We undoubtedly build links, and occasionally we export DVDs to people abroad. HBO is not accessible to everyone.


Outsourcing Embryos, the latest Vice for HBO documentary, sent reporter Gianna Toboni to India to look at the rapidly growing gestational surrogacy market. Couples from the United States and Europe hire Indian surrogacy firms because they are up to six times cheaper than Western options.

Stay tuned with us on for more further details.

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