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TV Review: True Stories - Google Baby

6 June 2011
Appeared in BioNews 610

True Stories: Google Baby

Channel 4, Tuesday 31 May 2011

'True Stories: Google Baby', Channel 4, Tuesday 31 May 2011

This documentary looks at the financial and human cost of international surrogacy and exposes the harsh reality of so-called 'fertility tourism'. It mainly focuses on an Indian fertility clinic, but also visits Israel and the USA.

Director Zippi Brand Frank has a passive style – the film has no narrator and is non judgmental. The lack of a narrator sometimes leaves the viewer confused about what is going on. This is aggravated by the different languages being spoken - at times it was difficult to follow the action while reading the subtitles. Overall the documentary was well made, but it was an hour and 45 minutes long and, at some points, started to become tiresome.

Most of the content was provocative and shocking. The film opens with a statement:


It then pans to a room in a clinic where a surrogate is having a caesarean section. Dr Nayna Patel who runs the clinic seems unaffected by the surrogate mother's tears and even conducts phone calls while stitching the patient up.

The documentary shows two opposing sides to Dr Patel. On one hand, she's a strong business woman who is happy to take advantage of Indian women. After explaining the risk, she makes it clear that neither the clinic nor commissioning parents take responsibility if the surrogate mother dies.

On the other hand, she seems to care. For example, when the commissioning parents want to give the surrogate extra money for a house, she only agrees if it is put in the woman's sole name.

The film highlighted the commercialisation of pregnancy. For example, when a member of the clinic team introduced the surrogates, she didn't know how far advanced they were in their pregnancies, but could give the details of their babies' commissioning parent. The commissioning parents came from around the world: USA, Dubai and Zimbabwe to name a few.

The treatment of the women resembled battery farming. With around a dozen single beds per room, the building was full to the rafters with surrogates. The quality of the care seemed traumatic. During one caesarean, a baby was violently pushed (almost beaten) out of a woman. It was shocking and distressing to watch.

But the documentary did provide balance, and the women involved seemed happy and willing in most cases. They wanted to buy homes and provide better education for their children.

One woman was so desperate to be a surrogate that, just three months after having a miscarriage, she asked Dr Patel to get her a good deal. She worried her miscarriage would lower how much commissioning parents would be willing to pay. Unfortunately, in this case, a sexist and controlling husband seemed to be the driving force. He said 'all women are good for is reproducing'.

The documentary also follows Israeli Doron Mamet who - with his partner - used an American surrogate. It apparently cost them $140,000 in total. This self-proclaimed entrepreneur, who worked in computing, decided to investigate outsourcing American / Western sperm and eggs to the surrogacy clinic in Gujarat, India.

Mamet set up a business where he acted as a consultant and intermediary for childless couples going through assisted conception. This seemed to mainly involve him Fedexing sperm samples or transporting a suitcase of frozen eggs and embryos.

Dr Patel met with Mamet, but set out two conditions for arranging surrogates. First, the commissioning parents have a medical need to use a surrogate. Second, the commissioning parents should be either childless or have only one child.

Mamet seemed unconcerned about the lives of the surrogates and even advised his clients to use two surrogates and implant two embryos in each. He also gave bad advice about the chances of conceiving twins.

The gay Israeli couple Mamet was helping seemed to treat the whole thing like online shopping. They used an egg donor website with a video that said 'We have a majority Caucasian – blond, blue-eyed, brown hair, brown eyes; we have an incredible selection of Chinese and Asian donors, we have Hispanic donors, we also have a very, very good selection of Jewish candidates… We have some models, some actresses, some are great at athletics, and some have masters' degrees'.

Via this website, we were introduced to Kat, an American mother of two who donated eggs. During her first donation, she produced 30 eggs. Kat gave financial reasons for donating – helping her purchase a home and raise her 'own' children. Kat did not know the risks of injecting medication to control her ovulation. She reassured herself that - if the medication caused her to develop cancer - it was part of God's plan.

Overall, this documentary is hard-hitting and seriously thought-provoking. Zippi Brand Frank fantastically captures the process of surrogacy from all angles. The film captures the issues that neither ethics nor law have caught up with for the generation with an easily-accessible global community and the Internet.

The film is still available to watch on 4oD.

Google Baby
More 4 10pm |  31 May 2011
'Google Baby' Documentary Sheds Light on Outsourcing Surrogacy
Wall Street Journal |  16 June 2010
4 November 2011 - by Luciana Strait 
'You can run but you can't hide; not forever'. The opening sequence of 'In Vitro' speaks to anyone who has ever made a mistake or a bad decision. But what if your decision was responsible for changing the world we live in forever? Despite being an educational film, the stunning cinematography and thought-provoking content makes this a must-see for anyone...
4 July 2011 - by Professor Anne Kerr 
Zippi Brand Frank's documentary 'Google Baby' gives us a fascinating insight into the global business of making babies. The programme follows an Israeli business man as he recruits commissioning parents via the internet, US brokers and egg donors, Indian assisted conception clinics and gestational surrogates ....
31 May 2011 - by Natalie Gamble 
More people are crossing borders to build their families than ever before. Prospective parents can easily access information about treatment options in countries where regulations permit treatments outlawed in the UK or where there is little or no regulation at all. But where surrogacy is involved, going abroad raises very difficult legal issues....
18 April 2011 - by Nisha Satkunarajah 
France's highest court has denied French citizenship to 10-year-old twins born to a French couple using a surrogate in the USA, reaffirming the country's ban on surrogacy...
14 March 2011 - by Rachel Lloyd 
The feature-length documentary 'Made in India' tackles cross-border surrogacy head-on by going beyond the sensational headlines to uncover for the first time the personal lives and choices of the surrogates and infertile people involved. The film follows an American couple, Lisa and Brian Switzer, on their quest to have a baby...
10 January 2011 - by Louisa Ghevaert 
International surrogacy has become big news. Last month, a landmark international commercial surrogacy case, Re L, attracted front page national headlines. Hard on its heels the media spotlight fell on the birth of Elton John and David Furnish's US surrogate born son, Zachary, on Christmas Day. This has fuelled the debate about surrogacy and the question is why has it generated such attention?...
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