Surrogacy, abortion and legal limbo to feature in RTÉ documentary

Indian woman paid €4,400 to carry twins for Irish couple in their 50s

Fiona Whyte and Seán Malone meet surrogate mother Shobha in the Corion Fertility Clinic in Mumbai. Photograph: RTÉ

Fiona Whyte and Seán Malone meet surrogate mother Shobha in the Corion Fertility Clinic in Mumbai. Photograph: RTÉ

Mon, Jan 13, 2014, 07:28

An Irish couple who travelled to India to have children last year and navigated the ethical and legal dilemmas surrounding surrogacy, are to feature in a documentary on RTÉ television tonight.

Her Body Our Babies follows Fiona Whyte and her partner Seán Malone from their decision to try surrogacy to bringing home their babies Ruby and Donal to Miltown Malbay in West Clare.

Along the way, there is a glimpse of the Indian women who sign up to carry the children of wealthy western couples and the realities of surrogacy, including the abortion of one of the embryos, termed “foetal reduction” at the Indian clinic where the treatment is carried out.

The Irish legal limbo into which children of a surrogate mother are born is also highlighted.

Both in their 50s and both with adult children from previous marriages, Ms Whyte and Mr Malone had spent €30,000 on unsuccessful fertility treatment prior to opting for surrogacy.

Selected a woman
Before leaving Ireland to travel to India in January last year, they selected a woman from whom they would receive donor eggs from the Corion Fertility Clinic’s website. They also selected Shobha, a married woman with children of her own, whom they wanted to be their surrogate.

She received $6,000 (€4,400) for carrying their children and the couple paid the clinic €25,000.

The documentary, filmed and directed by Edel O’Brien and produced by Denise O’Connor, followed the couple as they travelled to Mumbai and visited the clinic to meet the surrogate mother.

Clinic medical director, Dr Kaushal Kadam, told them Shobha would stay at “surrogacy house” for the duration of her pregnancy.

The couple was told they had six viable embryos from the donor eggs and Mr Malone’s sperm. The doctor explained if three were implanted and all three were successful, they would have to “reduce by one in future” to protect the health of the surrogate mother.

Ms Whyte and Mr Malone opted to have three embryos implanted. The remainder were frozen.

The documentary also heard from Dr Daisy Alexander, of Rizvi Law College in Mumbai, who described the surrogacy industry, which began in 1978, as a “baby farm”. The women and their families live hand to mouth, she said, and see surrogacy as a livelihood. The fee they receive is roughly 20 times what they could earn in a year.

Back in Ireland, on Valentine’s Day, the couple learned that Shobha was pregnant and shortly afterwards, were told all three embryos were viable.

‘Foetal reduction’
At 12 weeks, a “foetal reduction” was carried out. Dr Kadam explained via skype that a radiologist would “stop the heart of one of the babies and allow the remaining two to continue”.

The couple also visited solicitor Marion Campbell in Dublin who told them there was no provision in Irish law for surrogacy. She explained that Ms Whyte would have no legal entitlements to the children whatsoever because she had no genetic link to them.

And Mr Malone, with his genetic link to the children, would have to apply to the courts for guardianship of them, costing up to €10,000.

“The Irish Government needs to wake up and do something about it ,” Ms Campbell said.

In September, the couple travelled back to India for the birth. Shobha was delivered of a boy and a girl by caesarean section. The couple inquired of her health and were told “she’s fine”.

An emotional Mr Malone said they were upset by the doctor’s response. They felt Shobha was “discarded”. They were refused permission to visit her.

Six weeks later, the couple were given permission to leave India with the babies. The Irish Government supplied emergency documentation to allow them come into the country, but the children remain stateless.

Her Body, Our Babies airs on RTÉ One at 9.30pm tonight.

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