Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Wall Street Journal HBO Movie Google Baby
Pregnant Indian women at Dr. Navna Patel’s surrogacy clinic. In 2006, Israeli documentarian Zippi Brand Frank was studying as a Neiman Journalism Fellow at Harvard University when she became fascinated by the campus’ bulletin boards. She noticed an increasing number of ads calling for women’s embryos (tall, attractive and with good SAT scores only, please) being plastered all over the college. She soon learned how technical — and corporate — having a baby through a surrogate was becoming. Thus, the idea for her documentary “Google Baby,” which debuts tonight on HBO2, was born.
In particular, Frank became interested in the outsourcing of surrogacy to countries like India, where clinics, like that of Dr. Navna Patel in Anand, India, can employ hundreds of women as surrogates for strangers’ babies — at a fraction of the cost of using a Western surrogate. “It’s certainly a growing business over there,” says Frank. “And there are no regulations, no ethics. There was talk of limiting or regulating it, but the lobby of the doctors is so strong [in India], this is how it worked out.”
A native of Tel Aviv, Frank says she was more familiar than most about surrogacy rules, because the practice has been legal in Israel since 1996 and in-vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments are subsidized by the government. (The country, unsurprisingly, has the world’s highest per-capita rate of IVF.) But she still managed to be shocked by some of the information she uncovered while researching her film.
The Wall Street Journal: Surrogacy can be a touchy subject. How did you find subjects that were willing to tell their stories?
Zippi Brand Frank: It’s wasn’t easy. We filmed in three locations: America, Israel and India. In America, it was a little easier because it’s a capitalist society and it’s just another business transaction. When I was doing my research, I also found that many American women would say they were doing it because they honestly want to help out out other families, but if there wasn’t a money compensation, I’m not sure if they would do it. In India, it took me more than a year to convince the doctor [whose IVF clinic is featured in the film]. In the very beginning, she was reluctant because she wasn’t sure how her business would be received; plus, it wasn’t as big as it’s gotten now. The surrogate mothers were hard to convince because it’s really a taboo and forbidden in India.
in the film, Dr. Patel is shown taking a phone call while delivering a baby. Did you have any concerns about her practice?
The only criticism I have is about the c-section thing [whereby many surrogate mothers are given c-sections instead of being allowed a vaginal birth] which is geared toward the client, and having the commodity out as good as possible instead of focusing on the women first. That’s just how it works. [Dr. Patel] didn’t like that scene when she saw it, but coming from Israel, I can tell you it’s worse in Israel. During my c-section, the doctor was talking on the phone as well. It all depends on the culture.
Did you contact any of the families seeking surrogates?
in the very beginning, I was also researching the clients, as in, the ones that needed the service. After doing all the research, I decided to focus only on the industry. I’ve heard the personal stories behind surrogates before, and it’s all very emotional, but I wanted to focus on the industry to raise awareness that child bearing has become such a commodity.
You’ve screened your film around the world. How do the audience reactions differ by country?
It depends on where you are. For most people, it’s a diabolical process. Especially when I screen it in Europe. For example, in Italy, which is a Catholic country, this film is very very successful because there are no IVF treatments and it’s forbidden by the church. So people were shocked, and the film had coverage in the major newspapers. Europe is much more conservative about this subject than America. Overall, I think that people are amazing that you can take the egg outside and choose what baby you want to have, and then implant it in someone else.