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House of Surrogates

Tue Oct 1, 9-10.30pm, BBC4

‘You should treat it as if you are looking after guests at your house for nine months.’ This is Dr Nayna Patel’s advice to Indian women who are considering becoming surrogates for rich, childless Western couples. And while it’s probably good advice, it’s also impossible to follow.

Inevitably, this documentary – which explores the work of Patel’s IVF clinic in Anand – poses more questions than it answers. Patel is clearly a shrewd media operator and neatly sidesteps questions about the ethics of her enterprise. She also self-identifies as a feminist, pays the surrogates well and comes close to micro-managing unrelated aspects of their lives – which is unsettling, but surely preferable to washing her hands of them altogether.

Even so, this is often deeply uncomfortable viewing. Surrogate Edan is paid to nurse little Ceron for months after his birth – their eventual parting is heartbreaking. Canadian Barbara sizes up a potential surrogate’s child-rearing potential (‘she’s good and solid enough’) as the woman sits mutely before her. All in all, a perfectly formed insight into global inequality and power dynamics as first-world entitlement meets developing-world desperation before our bewildered eyes. Disturbing and fascinating.