Informed consent in medical decision-making in commercial gestational surrogacy: a mixed methods study in New Delhi, India

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Abstract

Objective.

To investigate ethical issues in informed consent for decisions regarding embryo transfer and fetal reduction in commercial gestational surrogacy.

Design.

Mixed methods study employing observations, an interview-guide and semi-structured interviews.

Setting.

Fertility clinics and agencies in Delhi, India, between December 2011 and December 2012.

Population.

Doctors providing conceptive technologies to commissioning couples and carrying out surrogacy procedures; surrogate mothers; agents functioning as links for surrogacy.

Methods.

Interviews using semi-structured interview guides were carried out among 20 doctors in 18 fertility clinics, five agents from four agencies and 14 surrogate mothers. Surrogate mothers were interviewed both individually and in the presence of doctors and agents. Data on socio-economic context and experiences among and between various actors in the surrogacy process were coded to identify categories of ethical concern. Numerical and grounded theory-oriented analyses were used.

Main outcome measures.

Informed consent, number of embryos transferred, fetal reduction, conflict of interest among the involved parties.

Results.

None of the 14 surrogate mothers were able to explain the risks involved in embryo transfer and fetal reduction. The majority of the doctors took unilateral decisions about embryo transfer and fetal reduction. The commissioning parents were usually only indirectly involved. In the qualitative analysis, difficulties in explaining procedures, autonomy, self-payment of fertility treatment and conflicts of interest were the main themes.

Conclusions.

Clinical procedural decisions were primarily made by the doctors. Surrogate mothers were not adequately informed. There is a need for regulation on decision-making procedures to safeguard the interests of surrogate mothers.

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