She is only 40 but has donated blood, eggs, a kidney, been a surrogate mother to support her family and has already reached menopause. For this Chennai woman living in a poor neighborhood, being a donor is an understatement because she was paid each time, which allowed her to repay her loans.
“All the while, I realized that I was doing something good helping those who don’t have children,” she said. “But now I feel like I’m about to die with so many problems in my body. It’s like I haven’t done good, but I’ve sinned. His shortness of breath – one of the consequences of what she did to her body – often caused her to stop speaking.
The recent case of the illegal egg donation of a 16-year-old girl to fertility clinics in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh has highlighted how women are exploited, as most of egg donors in India are poor women. The Tamil Nadu government took immediate action – arresting the family and intermediaries and sealing off the state’s four hospitals. The case is now before the Madras High Court.
According to activists, fertility clinics often receive these women or egg donors through a network of agents. Women receive anywhere from ₹20,000 to ₹30,000 to sell their eggs, which is way more than they earn otherwise. But injecting hormones and repeatedly stimulating the ovaries to make them produce multiple eggs to retrieve could have several medical consequences.
Women like the 40-year-old woman mentioned above are part of an unregulated global IVF egg donation market. In December 2021, the Lok Sabha passed the Assisted Reproductive Technology (Regulation) Bill 2020 to regulate assisted reproductive technology services and sperm and egg banks which have mushroomed across the country . The bill aims to severely punish those who practice sexual selection, the sale of human embryos or gametes, or who have found management agencies, racketeers and organizations for such practices in violation of the law. It entered into force in June.
The law is clear that only a woman between 21 and 34 who has already given birth can donate eggs. And a woman can only donate her eggs once. “There is no problem if the law is respected. But in case of violation, our government will take strict action against the hospitals,” Health Minister M Subramanian said. “We have now informed all districts of the ART guidelines. The case of the child (the 16 year old girl) who was also sexually assaulted is one of the worst things that can happen. Thanks to this, we have come to know this problem in depth. Some support the practice of adult women as egg donors. They say it’s for their livelihood and it’s better than prostitution.
A “GOLDEN EGG”
Married at the age of 15 and a mother at 17, the Chennai woman, now 40, started donating her eggs at the age of 33, which is late compared to the most other donors. She donated her eggs three times in a row. With a six-month gap between each donation, she completed the cycles in less than two years.
It was a time when she had taken a ₹Loan of 50,000 to marry his first daughter. She has two other daughters and a son. She had borrowed money from a neighborhood moneylender who often showed up at her house in the slum. “Every morning they would come to my house and insult us for not paying back on time,” she said. Seeing this, an elderly woman, whom she didn’t know much except that she worked as a cleaner at the hospital, approached her one morning. The elderly woman came up with the idea of donating her eggs to earn money and solve her problems. Her four children disagreed at first. “They were embarrassed. They thought people would shame us. If you were born a woman, especially a poor woman, people find ways to shame you no matter what you do. I convinced my children. I made them understand that families can be rich, but if they are not blessed with no children, they come to people like me. We make their lives better,” she said.
And so she went to a private hospital with the elderly woman. The staff checked her height and weight, which was 55 kg, and later her ultrasounds were taken often. The first time, she received 10 hormone injections – one day each.
A woman typically generates one or two eggs per month. The role of the hormone injection is therefore to stimulate her ovaries to produce several eggs for a better chance of harvesting them. After about 20 days, she was put under general anesthesia. On the operating table, her eggs were extracted and fertilized with sperm in a laboratory, commonly known as IVF – in vitro fertilization.
The hospital then gave him ₹30,000, of which ₹2000 went to the elderly woman. “I had 28,000 although I know that my eggs are sold for hundreds of thousands of euros.”
The donor from Chennai does not know where the sperm comes from and who receives her fertilized eggs, which would be implanted in another woman’s womb. Indian Council for Medical Research guidelines do not allow donors and couples to meet.
But the people on the other end of this process, the couples who receive egg donations, are applying for the kind of woman they want as an egg donor. “The most important demand is for a righteous woman,” says AJ Hariharan, secretary of the Chennai-based Indian Community Welfare Organization. Since 2012, her organization has worked with 8,000 female egg carriers and donors in Chennai and the adjacent districts of Kancheepuram and Thiruvallur. “The next request is for a woman of the same caste, although this is not expressed openly. They would say something like they want a vegetarian egg donor. They also want egg donors of the same religion. Hospitals and the agents willingly agree but mostly trick them. And only until the proceedings do they treat them like a golden egg and a golden wife. Once they no longer have need her, no one is there to take care of them,” Hariharan said.
MONETIZE THE OOCYTE, IN DEFECT HEALTH
A 33-year-old woman from Cuddalore district in Tamil Nadu donated her eggs eight times. “They only paid me ₹25,000 each time,” she said. She had a loan of ₹ 2 lakh, so she gave eight times between 2014 and 2016.
“I had to do it for my family. Now I have won against my challenges and I will never do it again,” she said. She learned about this egg donation when she went to see her sister’s birth at a local hospital and saw signs everywhere saying: Wanted: Egg Donors.
She consulted the doctor and her life changed for better and for worse. Her husband had abandoned her and the children, so this money helped them get by. Between donations, she conceived a third child, who is fragile. The woman herself became frail and tired over time. “Each time, the procedure took at least 55 days,” she said.
While she did not want to talk further about her “battle”, the 40-year-old woman from Chennai said she suffered from shortness of breath, insomnia, pain in the limbs, especially in the knees, and that she always felt tired. “If I go to bed, I can’t get up. It takes so long and my shoulders, banks and limbs hurt so much,” she said. She sleeps on the floor, gets up at 7 a.m. and cooks for her family. Since she stopped giving, she goes to get scrap metal from the landfill to resell it.
She didn’t even know the sex of the baby. “99% of surrogate babies are C-section babies,” Hariharan said. Six months ago, she had an early menopause.
Frequent egg donation can cause a life-threatening condition called Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHS), said Chennai-based gynecologist Dr. Akhila Bhatt. “It can cause extreme changes in the menstrual cycle, monthly swelling due to increased stimulation of the ovaries, early menopause, pregnancy due to unretrieved eggs, or premature ovulation. Sometimes there can also be infection and bleeding,” Dr. Bhatt said. “This is a long and stressful procedure because the procedure is usually anonymous and a donor knows that she may have no role to play in the life of the donor. ‘child.”
The egg donor from Chennai said the hospital warned her of health complications. “But I wanted money. So my thought was first to pay off the debts and then I will think about my health,” she said. “If I had money, would I do this?”
Cuddalore-based activist Arokiya Mary from the All India Democratic Women’s Association said countless women are stuck in this business due to poverty. “We have thought a lot about how we can protect these women from exploitation. And we don’t have an answer. They all do it just for their livelihood. The state must do something for them,” Mary said.
Once these women reach an age where they can no longer donate eggs and become surrogate mothers, some of them turn into agents. “Sometimes hospital staff tell women that the broker is charging you ₹5000, I will only charge you ₹2000, so next time come to me directly. The network continues to thrive,” Hariharan said. “It’s also booming because when in other countries there are more restrictions, regulations like in Norway, they connect here with egg donors and surrogate mothers.”
He said these women should be included in government schemes such as the widow’s pension. “So they don’t feel the need to do it repeatedly,” he said, calling for the total number of surrogates and egg donors to be listed and allowing only direct links. between medical institutions and these women without agents.
The Chennai egg donor contacted agents from when she donated her kidney six years ago and her eggs seven years ago. “Nobody answers my call. I fight.”