Couples seek Indian egg donors to have multiracial babies
"The perception is that multiracial children are healthier and brighter."
On a hot summer’s day in the tony south Delhi neighbourhood of Greater Kailash-I, Norwegians Freya Reintoff* and her husband Arian Rakke* carefully sifted through dozens of pictures of Indian women.
Reintoff (36) and Rakke (37) looked for “a happy, open face”, characteristics they hope will help them in their search for a healthier, more intelligent baby.
The couple live in the town of Holmestrand (population: less than 10,000) on the east coast of Norway, and are one of many Caucasians making the long trip to India to treat infertility by opting for donor eggs from ethnic Indian women.
Here’s why: multiracial babies are perceived to be healthier and more intelligent.
“We researched on the Internet and chose an Indian donor because it does not really matter to us whether the baby looks like us or not,” said Reintoff, an English teacher who has barely managed to get over the cultural shock of her first visit to India. “What’s important is that the baby is healthy.”
Reintoff — a blue-eyed, blonde — said she wasn’t looking for a designer baby, just a smart, happy one.
“India is very different but the people are beautiful and the food is great,” said Rakke.
Egg donation is an infertility treatment in which eggs taken from a donor with her consent are fertilised with sperm from the husband. The embryo thus created is implanted into the womb of the childless woman. A legal agreement is signed; the donor’s identity is protected and the donor gives up all rights to the baby.
Each month, four to five such couples looking for Indian donor eggs visit Dr Shivani Sachdev, infertility expert at Phoenix Hospital, where Reintoff and Rakke went.
Medical tourism companies confirm the number of Caucasians getting treated for infertility in India has shot up over the past year.
“People travelling from the US, Canada and Europe have doubled over the past year,” said Kaushik Shukla, COO of We Care, a Mumbai-based medical tourism and treatment-packaging company that offers IVF, egg donor, surrogacy and infertility treatment solutions.
“We have tied up with clinics in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai where we send them for treatment.”
The perception is that multiracial children are healthier and brighter, said Dr Sachdev.
“I am currently using Indian donor eggs to treat four Caucasian couples — two British, one American and one German,” he said. “The American couple chose a girl who looked very ethnically Indian, and another Norwegian couple were here today looking for Indian donors.”
Not all Caucasians, however, want Indian donors.
Elizabeth Burns*, 50, a Canadian married to an Indian in Kolkata, wants a Caucasian donor who resembles her.
“I always thought race didn’t matter but when I got down to actual decision-making, very strong instincts kicked in,” said Burns. “I wanted to choose a donor who looked like me and the women in my family. Since Caucasian donors are limited here, I’ll choose a donor over the Internet and have the egg shipped to India.”
“Apart from similar genetic backgrounds, I am going to consider the health, educational and height of the donor,” said Burns.
Under India’s National Guidelines for Accreditation, Supervision & Regulation of ART Clinics in India, anonymous donation is allowed from donors who are “healthy (medical and psychological examination, screening for STDs, and absence of HIV antibodies) women in the age group of 18-35 years”.
Unlike Sachdev, Dr Hrishikesh Pai, infertility expert with Mumbai’s Lilavati Hospital and Fortis La Femme in Delhi, does not show photographs of donors to recipients. Instead, he provides a detailed description of the donors, including colour of the eyes, hair and skin.
“People don’t care so much about looks as 50 per cent of the genetic matter is the husband’s,” said Dr Pai.
“More than looks, what people look for in egg donors is medical history including karyotyping to detect congenital defects, psychological profiling and educational background.”
Naina Gupta*, 26, has the perfect profile of an ideal egg donor. She is a graduate who got married at the age of 22 and is the mother of a two-year-old.
“I read about egg donation in a newspaper and decided to become a donor for the money," said Gupta, who gave up her job as a sales representative after her son was born. “My husband does not mind.” She is paid Rs 20,000 for the process, which takes four weeks.
Egg donation is not as easy as Gupta makes it sound. During the treatment cycle, donors are given injected medication for four weeks and have to make several visits to the doctor for blood tests and ultrasounds.
“Egg donation is not as simple as sperm donation,” said Dr Pai. “Apart from proven fertility and a battery of tests, the donor has to take fertility drug injections to stimulate the ovaries to produce many eggs at one time. Removing the eggs from the ovaries is a minor surgical procedure under anaesthesia. The money given is basically compensation for the time and effort.”
* The names of the patients and the donor have been changed to protect their identity.