Sept. 28, 2007 — -- For infertile couples, miracle babies are the joy of a lifetime, but they often come with a hefty price tag. But like so many other services, more affordable surrogate mother candidates are beginning to be found overseas.
Health care insurance often doesn't come close to covering the costs associated with infertility treatments, and if you're uninsured, they're likely not even an option.
Michael and Tracy Thornton had long dreamed of starting a family, but when they were ready, doctors told Tracy that she would not be able to carry a baby to term.
"When they told me not to try to become pregnant that was very crushing," Tracy said. "Our only option was to get a surrogate, and when we started looking into the amount of money over here it was nothing we could afford."
So the Windsor, Conn., couple began a search to find a surrogate mother within their means. But little did they realize that finding an affordable option would mean traveling half way around the world to an infertility clinic in India run by Dr. Nanya Patel.
At Kaival Hospital in Ananad, India, women are lining up to carry babies for American couples at a fraction of the cost.
"When they come first to me they are really a desperate lot because this is the last thing they would want to try," Patel said. "It's not easy carrying a baby for 9 months for someone else."
In the United States, the Thorntons were informed that the services of a surrogate -- including in-vitro fertilization to home health care costs during pregnancy to delivery -- would cost them $60,000. If the in-vitro fertilization process is a success in India it costs just $6,000.
The couple couldn't believe the price difference. "It was pretty amazing, it was a revelation for us," the Thorntons told "Good Morning America."
But while the service is making dreams come true for some American couples, employing foreign surrogates is not without controversy, and is being dubbed "rent-a-womb" and an outsourcing of pregnancy by some critics -- who liken it to an Indian call center.
"In these countries there is tremendous opportunity to exploit the poor," infertility specialist Dr. Daniel Stein said. "Medical care should not be exploitative."
Regardless, the baby business is booming in India, where 600 in-vitro clinics bring more than $400 million a year into the local economy.
Patel, a pioneer in overseas in-vitro services, is passionate about her work and believes the service she provides is about people helping people. Her impoverished surrogates take home a paycheck equivalent to 10 years of work, and the couples take home a baby.
"This surrogate is like a God to them because without her they would never had had their child," Patel said. "The joy that is there at the end of the day is a million times more than the money you can count."
In the United States, in-vitro fertilization procedures can start at $15,000, with the potential to top $100,000. Overseas, treatments start as low as $2,500.
The staggering cost of IVF sent Craig and Marcela Fite of Bowling Green, Ohio, on a trip to the Czech Republic, where the process is less expensive. During the trip, Marcella Fite successfully delivered the couple's twins, Jenny and Nicole.
"Between the insurance companies, the lawyers, the doctors and the pharmaceutical companies here in the U.S., it's hard to have prices be normal," Craig Fite said.
To help other struggling couples, the Fites started IVF Vacation, a company that offers overseas reproductive packages, but not surrogacy.
"We went to another country and the payoff is that we got our little girls, and you can't beat that," Craig said.
But Stein warned that undergoing such procedures abroad can be risky and said success rates are higher in America.
"I would say be very cautious," Stein said. "Do your homework, have a very good idea about that center's experience, who is running that center, what their certification is, who are they reporting to."
The Thorntons admitted they're worried about the chance of their surrogate not getting pregnant, but said one last chance at having a baby is a risk worth taking.
"It would be dream come true -- absolutely," Michael Thornton said. "It is something we've worked for and thought about it for years. We would have what we were searching for all this time."