'Google Baby' Follows Birth Outsourced To India

The documentary Google Baby explores what happens when surrogacy meets international outsourcing. The same process that can cost more than $100,000 in the U.S. can be done in India for $6,000. Director Zippi Brand Frank explains how the process works, and the questions it raises.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

In the opening scene of a new documentary, we see Dr. Nayna Patel in India perform a caesarian delivery. And just moments after the baby emerges, one of her assistants answers a cell phone and holds it up to the doctor's ear.

(Soundbite of movie, "Google Baby")

Dr. NAYNA H. PATEL (Akanksha Infertility Clinic): Hello? Yes. I'm so sorry, Doctor, but you know it's not an easy procedure. It's a very complicated procedure, surrogacy, and they should understand all the implications before they go into it. Yeah? So that - yes. The husband and wife themselves should come, understand the whole procedure, and then decide whether they would want to go for it or not, okay? When they come personally we can discuss it, okay? Okay. Welcome. Bye-bye. No, no, no, most welcome. Bye-bye.

CONAN: As Dr. Patel finishes up the operation on one surrogate mother, she arranges the appointment to interview another who may be interested in renting her womb for nine months. We later tour her clinic, where one woman is pregnant with the baby of a couple from Chicago, another from Dubai, another from England. And we learn how all of this is orchestrated on the Internet and facilitated by FedEx. The film is called "Google Baby." It premieres tomorrow night on HBO2. Its director joins us in just a moment.

If you're involved in the surrogacy business, we'd like to hear from you -doctors, donors, parents, clinicians: 800-989-8255. Email us - talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Zippi Brand Frank joins us now from our bureau in New York. Her film, again, is "Google Baby." And thanks very much for coming in today.

Ms. ZIPPI BRAND FRANK (Director, "Google Baby"): Thank you.

CONAN: And the astonishing thing about - one of the many astonishing things about your picture - in that scene we can hear the scissors at the - they're still working on this woman as they're arranging the next appointment.

Ms. FRANK: Yes. I mean, on the one hand, they do have, you know, the operation going on. On the other hand, you know, there are lots of clients who are calling right now. India has become the world's number one capital for surrogacy. I mean, everybody from outside of the country who wants to find some cheaper solutions for surrogacy goes to India. So there are a lot of telephones.

CONAN: And essentially your film follows a young man from Israel who has been -he and his partner have adopted a baby, has gotten a surrogate baby themselves from the United States. And he says in the end it ended up costing him $140,000. And he thinks, wait a minute, everything else is being outsourced to India. Why not this?

Ms. FRANK: Exactly. That's what - that's exactly his start-up(ph). I mean he did it - he did his first baby through 100 - he paid 140,000 U.S. dollars and he decided he's going to find the cheapest way to do the other babies. And now his business is really growing rapidly, I would say. And it costs, if you go to India and you still want to have a Western egg donor but you can, you know, you can compromise for an Indian surrogate mother, so you pay only 40,000 U.S. dollars, and that's the maximum you can get for a baby.

CONAN: And here is one of the ways people find out about this process. It's an ad, essentially, by - narrated by Dr. Patel about the surrogate mothers who are available.

(Soundbite of advertisement)

Dr. PATEL: I am Dr. Nayna Patel, and I'm practicing in vitro fertilization (unintelligible) in Gujarat, India. And (unintelligible) started practicing surrogacy. And these are a few of my surrogates who work with me. All of my surrogates are very humble, simple, nice females. And they are very committed, they are very dedicated, they're very religious. And they want to do their job in a very dedicated manner. These surrogates are (unintelligible) and they always deliver under my care and supervision. And this, as a clinic, we try to supervise as a whole procedure.

CONAN: And you show us this clinic, Zippi Brand Frank, and it looks very nice, very clean, very modern. And we meet several of these women, many of whom live at the clinic, hiding essentially from friends and family because they're feared of being portrayed as prostitutes.

Ms. FRANK: Right. Actually, those women who decide to go for a surrogacy, they come to live in the clinic of Dr. Patel or - either in the clinic or she has some hostels who are serving these women, and they don't tell their families, they don't' tell their villages. They just go - they tell them they're going for a caregiver position abroad or something like that. And they go and stay there for a year, or more than that. But these clinics are in a very good condition, I would say, very Western standards, the surrogates are being treated over there and they get good nutrition and vitamins and whatever is needed through their whole pregnancy period.

CONAN: And we meet one family in particular who's interested in surrogacy to earn the money, well, not only to educate their son - they want him to be an officer in the Indian Army - but also to build a house. And interestingly, that is the same motivation for the woman from whom they get the eggs in this. And she is from Tennessee and we also meet her online.

Ms. CATHERINE GALLEON: My name is Catherine Galleon(ph). I'm 28 years old and I work through Egg Donation Incorporated, donating my eggs to couples that are not able to produce healthy children with the mother's eggs. I'm about 5'10. I weigh 130 pounds. I have brown hair and green eyes. I'm tall and fairly athletic.

CONAN: And she has donated eggs once and we see her go through the process of donating them again, indeed, injecting herself with the fertility drugs, at which moment she tells us, yes, essentially I'm being treated like a robot.

Ms. FRANK: Yes. In terms of, you know, when you take fertility drugs for the IVF treatment, is the doctors are - you know, even if you're a customarily reserved, the doctors are taking care of everything.

I mean, they want to do it in the same - on the exact days in which you have the most or the highest numbers of eggs. So that's the reason why she says, I'm being treated like a robot. But it's also for infertile woman who's going through the same procedures.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. FRANK: But what's amazing about it - I'm not sure whether you're familiar or not - just if you go right now online, you Google up for an egg donor or something, most women right now are choosing to be a - with open ID even for a sperm donor. It's no more anonymous.

Sperm donors, I mean, you can find people online just you know, with their face with their ID, with their bio, with whatever is related to them and they're offering their eggs and sperm. And for surrogacy, I mean, you have Dr. Patel was the first one, which I filmed three years ago.

She had, like, 70 surrogates. Right now, she is having, like, more than 300 surrogates. And there are many other Indian doctors that are actually starting to offer the same business. So it's a really growing business right now.

And what I wanted to do in "Google Baby," just to provide a glimpse to what I believe is going to be, like, a big issue in humanity in the very near future.

CONAN: Because none of these seems to be supervised by anybody, there are - you mentioned at one point in the film that parts of this are illegal in Israel. But reaping the benefits of this, if it's done in India, no problem.

Ms. FRANK: Exactly. And that's the (unintelligible) interpret as idea. They are like, what's can - what is forbidden in one country can be done in another country, and it's no more just an issue of countries.

I mean, we're in a global economy, global market and you know, you can find your solution anywhere else for even for cheaper prices and that's globalization.

CONAN: 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. Mark's(ph) on the line calling from Los Gatos, California.

MARK (Caller): Hi. How are you?

CONAN: I'm very well, thank you.

MARK: I'm - is actually listening to this program. I'm currently going through this procedure myself. I have a child due in late October. I went to India, met with Dr. Patel. She's a very nice lady. She does a very, very good job. She got a lot of press in the United States.

She's was on "Oprah" and that's primarily where she gets all of it. And she runs a small very, very (unintelligible) clinic there. But I would have to disagree with some of the comments.

I mean, the clinics over there are not Western and they're not, you know, spic and span and clean. I mean, they're very good and they're perfectly competent, but for American's perspective - you'd be surprised. My egg donor came from Egg Donation, Inc., as well, in Los Angeles.

I had to pay for her to go India. We have a good - I have a good relationship with her. She had to change before she had her procedure into - in a broom closet.

CONAN: Hmm.

MARK: So, and this was, you know, so it's - I'm not putting it down. I think it's great. I think it's a fantastic process. I wouldn't be able to be where I am today. My wife is a little older, and as a consequence couldn't produce any viable eggs. So that's why we went through this process.

CONAN: But, if not up to the highest Western standards, good enough for your baby?

MARK: Say again. Well, no. The options are that you want to do it in America, you're going to pay $20,000 to a surrogate agency, $30,000 to a surrogate, 15 or 10 or 15 to an egg donation donor, 5,000 to the Egg Donation Inc. And then you're talking about another 20 or 30,000 for medical and legal costs.

You're into it for over $100,000. You go to India - and ask the young lady on your show says, and you're into it for no more than 25 grand. So - and it's the only option but there are some other things.

I mean, being an American - I know I don't sound it, but I am - you have the best advantages. You can father children all over the world, and you can - all of those children can be American. That is not the case in almost any other country.

In England, the birth mother is considered the mother of the child, and therefore, English people who don't have an American passport had to go through a legal adoption process in order to get their own genetic children, because the British government doesn't look at the genetic child, just look for the birth mother.

So there's a lot of complications, and the Germans are even worse. There's families over there with children that have lived there for two years. They just can't a German passport for them, so...

CONAN: And Mark, the egg was donated by another woman, is the sperm yours?

MARK: Yes. Yes.

CONAN: Okay. I was just trying to clarify.

MARK: Even in the United States, there are some issues. There's a story of a lady who wanted a child - And I won't go on about this anymore, too much. But she was - she had no genetic connection with the child. And then when the child this is surrogacy in the United States, and it became some big legal process.

So as long you have genetic connection to the child and one of the parents is American, you're fine. And it - but it's a great system. And, you know, the benefits to the surrogate over there are unbelievable. Five thousand dollars to a surrogate over there changes their lives, (unintelligible) by a rickshaw. And there's another thing I'd have to contest that somebody said they don't all go into hiding. I mean, the surrogates do this openly, in many cases, with the consent of their husbands who also have to sign documents.

CONAN: Their husbands - that's made clear in the film. It's just that some of their villages are not informed. Indeed, sometimes their families are not informed. But Mark, thanks very much for the phone call. And good luck to you.

MARK: Thanks a lot. Bye.

CONAN: Appreciate it. We're talking with Zippi Brand Frank about her new documentary "Google Baby." You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And I wondered, Zippi Brand Frank, if you wanted to respond to some of that?

Ms. FRANK: No. You know, regarding the standards, I just think it's okay. I mean, the Western standards issue, really takes care of (unintelligible). I also wanted to comment that, you know, it's - from the very beginning, when I started the research, I thought - I was completely convinced that it's exploitation of women. And, you know, when you're looking at it from abroad or from telephone conversation, it seems to be the worst thing a woman can go through.

But when I went there and I spent, like, three times, with doctor - three excursions, tree trips to India with Dr. Patel. And I learned her, you know, and I was very much intrigued by her feminist agenda behind it. And also the surrogate mothers, you know, you say - you might say these are only 5,000 or 6,000 U.S. dollar that she gets. But actually, for those women, it's a lot of money.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. FRANK: And also for them, it's a big decision in which they are doing it against their, you know, against their families or their big families. They just go and decide, okay, we - that's our last solution to improve our family life, to give education to our kids, or to build a house or something like that. And it's important enough for us in order to do that, even though it's a social taboo.

So, you know, we have to look at things from both perspectives. What might seem for us, from, you know, being away is a very hard thing to do, it might be for them as sort of a salvation, as well, for some couples.

CONAN: And I have to say, in the film, we see the pain of these mothers separating from the newborns. We see people, all along, every stage of this process, questioning their ethics at one point or another.

Ms. FRANK: Yes, there's a huge ethic question regarding everything, regarding all this industry which is going on. And that was my reasoning behind the film. I mean, it's - the mothers questioning themselves. I'm not sure that the Indian women are really much connected to the babies. I mean, of course, when you're -and I myself had two babies. Like, I know what pregnancy looks like. So it's not easy to detach, but, you know, they are very much, from the very beginning, are knowing that they're just going to give it away, so it might be also the pains of the C-section, but it's not only the detaching thing. But...

CONAN: Well, let's see if we can get one more caller in. This is Katie(ph), Katie with us from Akron.

KATIE (Caller): Hi, yes. I'm an American gestational surrogate. I've carried twins for a male couple, and I'm currently in the middle of considering my second surrogacy. And I think here in the United States the surrogates are required to go through legal and medical and financial screenings, to ensure that, you know, that they understand the process, that they're a good candidate. And I guess I have a lot of concerns about surrogacy in India. Yeah, I think (technical difficulty)...

CONAN: Could you speak more directly into the phone, please, Katie.

KATIE: Oh, I'm sorry. I think the intended parents of the baby that is going to be born, I think they, you know, I think they have an ethical and moral responsibility to make sure that the surrogate who is carrying their child is not coming to surrogacy in any sort of financial duress at the expense of their own children and families. And I'm just not sure how exactly that can happen in India.

CONAN: Well, we're still having troubles with your phone, Katie. But thank you very much for the call and good luck to you. We appreciate the phone call.

But I wonder if, Zippi Brand Frank, would like to address that.

Ms. FRANK: Yes, it's not the same. I mean, it's not that they have a lot of psychological background checks and, you know, in all this. And there's no really connection between couples and their surrogate mother. I know that there have been several couples that really wanted to have the connection, but - with the Indian surrogate mothers - but the cultural gap is really big.

I mean, it's hard even to speak, so it's not that the couples I know that -American surrogates really have from - some of the researchers have done -there's a very close relationship with some of the couples and everything. It doesn't exist with the Indians. We shouldn't think it exists, you know? It's pure business, I would say, like couples at least through the (unintelligible) through the interpreter, saying...

CONAN: And five or $6,000 is a lot of money, but there's no question these families are under financial distress. They're trying to buy a house.

Ms. FRANK: What?

CONAN: The Indian women.

Ms. FRANK: (Unintelligible).

CONAN: The Indian women, they're clearly - if - Katie's question was are they under financial distress, the answer is yes.

Ms. FRANK: Yes, of course.

CONAN: Yes.

Ms. FRANK: Of course, they have nothing. It's not only trying to buy a house -they live in the street. I mean, these are very rural women (unintelligible).

CONAN: And finally this email question from Dave(ph) in Wisconsin, how is this not baby-buying?

Ms. FRANK: How is this not baby-buying?

CONAN: Or is this baby-buying, in other words?

Ms. FRANK: I mean, yeah - you're unfortunate. You cannot do the baby, you know, under natural way, so you have to buy, you know, you have to buy a sperm, you have to buy an egg, and - or you have to buy a surrogate service, but it should - you can also look at it on this way, yes.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Zippi Brand Frank, thank you very much. And good luck with the film.

Ms. FRANK: Thank you very much.

CONAN: Zippi Brand Frank, thank you very much. And good luck with the film.

Ms. FRANK: Thank you very much.

CONAN: Zippi Brand Frank is director of the documentary "Google Baby." It debuts tomorrow night on HBO 2. A special Granite State edition of the Political Junkie tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION. We're packing Ken Rudin up and heading for New Hampshire. We hope you'll join us for that.

This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

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