In the world's second most populous country, assisted reproductive technology is becoming ever more popular in India. And topics like sperm donation are more openly discussed.
A recent Bollywood film "Vicky Donor" has sparked a discussion about the way Indians think about the reproductive process. The film is about a man who donates sperm and becomes the biological father of some 70 children. Not only rich in offspring, the man makes a lot of money with his "quality seed."
The film has sparked a trend among Indian men also looking to make some quick change.
A fertility clinic in Gujarat, India, was recently flooded with men wishing to donate "for the welfare of society," and "to help others and for some extra income," as some of them stated. Donors receive between 500 and 3,000 rupees (10-60 US dollars) per sample, which is equivalent to a day's earnings for some people and even to a month's wages for others.
John Abraham, the producer of the movie Vicky Donor and a famous Bollywood actor, told the Hindustan Times newspaper in an interview, "Once while having dinner with friends at a restaurant, a girl who was there with her husband walked up to thank me for making Vicky Donor. Then, she unabashedly asked me for my sperm," he says.
He found the request strange yet sweet since it was made in all seriousness. "Earlier women wanted to marry me, now they want my baby. I have to tell them that if I keep donating sperm I'll end up becoming the father of the nation."
Though the issue remains taboo, the film has not only inspired some men to follow the new occupation of their dreams, it has also made it easier to openly talk about the act of procreation and its by-products. Not only is the media talking more about it - a recent article published in the Hindustan Times asks the question why "sperm donation is a taboo in India" - bloggers are, too.
Blogger Rajee writes on a leading blogsite Sulekha.com about his misgivings about "factory-produced children." He is of the opinion that it raises "many social, ethical and moral questions."
Despite opposition to the trend, the number of couples looking for good sperm is growing. And the amount of cash they are willing to pay is growing as well. Earlier this year, a couple in India made headlines for posting an advertisement that offered the equivalent of 40 US dollars for the sperm of a healthy student of the Indian Institute of Technology. The requirements: "no bad habits, tall build and a light complexion."
The ad raised eyebrows, but it is all in line with modern times, writes a doctor in his blog. "Childless couples at times come up with a good deal of money to get the sperm of a qualified, good looking, intelligent donor," the doctor writes. He emphasized the "individual qualities of the donor" as a major factor for sperm shoppers.
Fears of gender gaps
While artificial insemination and sperm donation is a godsend for some couples, some observers fear the technology could be misused for gender selection - a problem India already grapples with as boys are preferred to girls.
"The sperm banks will ensure that they provide the required gene for procreation of a male child," writes one blogger named Uhmesh.
An anonymous blogger who wrote, "Not sure of the technical possibility if at all sperms can decide gender," didn't think sperm banks would contribute much to the gender bias in Indian society. "People want male progeny of their line. But who would be interested in a male heir of some random guy? One can as well adopt a boy child if that's what they want.
"Any good invention is bound to be misused. Sperm banking is not meant for having a baby of a gender as per one's choice. But, if people are misusing it, nothing can be done. It doesn't mean that inventions should be stopped," comments a blogger by the name of "Captain Awesome" on indiblogger.in.
Aniruddha Malpani, a fertility doctor who runs a clinic in Mumbai, gives an ironical twist to the whole debate, saying sperm donation is becoming a thing of the past. He writes in his blog: "With the recent advances in reproductive technology, the need for sperm donation has progressively decreased, thanks to Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI). It's now even possible for men with zero sperm counts to have babies."
"However, the need for egg donation has progressively increased, as women choose to postpone childbearing, and hopefully we will see a movie about egg donation in the next few years," the specialist adds.
Author: Tanushree Sandhu, Sarah Berning
Editor: Richard Connor