Around half of the 2,000 babies born to surrogate mothers in India last year may have gone to British parents, an investigation by the Sunday Telegraph has revealed.
The newspaper says there are up to 1,000 fertility clinics in the country with many specialising in international surrogacy arrangements. It is estimated the industry is worth up to £1.5 billion each year and growing.
Dr Radhey Sharma, deputy director general of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), said: 'Nobody in India actually knows for sure how many babies are born through these commercial enterprises and how many places are involved'.
'I have the database of some 600 IVF clinics in India, but that is not a complete list. There could be around 400 more clinics operating without any regulation', he added.
In the UK, where around 100 babies are thought to have been born to surrogate mothers in 2011, commercial surrogacy is illegal and payments other than reasonable expenses are prohibited. Payment to an egg donor other than reasonable expenses of up to £750 per cycle of donation is also prohibited in the UK.
The Sunday Telegraph says an Indian surrogate can expect to receive on average around £6,000 if she donates her eggs and carries the child. British parents who are seen to have paid an Indian surrogate above reasonable expenses must obtain retrospective authorisation of the payment by a UK judge prior to the granting of parental status, which under UK law is automatically conferred on the birth mother - the surrogate - and, if married, her husband.
Although draft laws to regulate fertility clinics in India have not yet been finalised by the Indian Government (reported in BioNews 594), the ICMR and the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare have set up a national registry of fertility clinics in India.
The National ART (Assisted Reproductive Technology) Registry of India (NARI) will provide 'appropriate help and assistance to all those who are engaged in taking care of infertility problems in the country', the ICMR says, and will allow for data on the number of clinics to be collected. Dr Sharma has invited clinics in India to be a part of the registry.
'There has been, consequently a mushrooming of such clinics around the country', said the ICMR. 'In public interest therefore, it has become important to regulate the functioning of such clinics to ensure that the services provided are ethical and that the medical, social and legal rights of all those concerned are protected'.
Until the draft Assisted Reproductive Technology Bill, compiled by Dr Sharma and other experts in 2010, is passed by legislators, the fertility industry in India will continue to be largely unregulated, although national guidelines are published by the ICMR.
The proposed regulations would make it more difficult for British parents to enter into arrangements with surrogates in India.