New law to clip wings of rent-a-womb biz

In a decision that could halve the demand for hired surrogate mothers in India, the government has decided to ban foreigners from renting a womb in the country.

New Delhi: In a decision that could halve the demand for hired surrogate mothers in India, the government has decided to ban foreigners from renting a womb in the country.

The latest draft of Assisted Reproductive Technology (Regulation) Bill, 2014 which is likely to be tabled in the winter session of Parliament. It says only Indian couples or a foreigner married to an Indian citizen may opt for surrogacy.

By defining ‘couple’ as a married man-woman pair, the bill also shuts the door on homosexuals and people in a live-in relationship. The older draft billA R T Bill, 2010recognized ‘couple’ as two people living together in a sexual relationship that is legal in India. Since homosexuality is a crime in the country, it technically barred homosexual couples.

India, Georgia, Russia, Thailand, Ukraine and some US states are among the few places that permit paid surrogacy. The UK and some Australian states allow only altruistic or charitable surrogacy while Germany, Spain and the Scandinavian countries do not allow it at all.

Demand from rich countries, lack of regulation in India and the availability of cheap technology, skilled doctors, and donors and surrogates made India a fertility tourism hotspot.

Sudha Sunderraman, general secretary of All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), said the willingness of poor Indian women to bear babies for money disregarding the health consequences was the biggest attraction. “Government must stop this with immediate effect,” she said.

For many years, India was the preferred surrogacy destination for Israelis since Israel allows only heterosexual couples to engage surrogate mothers back home. Gay couples and single parents therefore turned to India. But in 2013, the Home ministry barred gay men and couples who had been married for less than two years to hire surrogate mothers. As a result, some Indian surrogates started travelling to Nepal to deliver children.

The racket was exposed when Israel sent a special aircraft to fetch babies born to surrogate mothers in Nepal after the earthquake in April. Media reports said none of the surrogate mothers was allowed to travel out, reflecting the apathy towards them.

Surrogates are ruthlessly exploited, a study by Delhi University, Jawaharlal Nehru University and Denmark’s Aarhus University also showed. It found that doctors in Delhi’s infertility clinics often implant a surrogate with multiple embryosseven in one casefor a better success rate, ignoring the risks to the woman. The findings were published in two international journals, Bioethical Inquiry and Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica.

Dr Abha Mazumdar, head of the IVF centre at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, said most of the unethical practices in commercial surrogacy involve foreigners. “An agent mediating in a property deal gets 10-20% commission, but in surrogacy, agents who bring surrogates get more than 100% commission,” she said.

However, surrogacy centres oppose the new restrictions saying they are harsh and unfair to clinics working ethically. “You cannot paint everyone with the same brush. Banning all foreigners from opting for surrogacy will be inhuman,” said Dr Shivani Sachdev Gour, secretary, Indian Society for Third Party Assisted Reproduction (Instar).

The A R T Bill, 2014 states that clinics shall be presumed to be negligent in case the surrogate mother dies or is disabled, unless they can prove otherwise. It has also proposed imprisonment of up to five years or a fine of Rs 10 lakh, or both, for the first offence and a jail term of seven years or a fine of Rs 15 lakh, or both, for subsequent offences. Instar has opposed these provisions.

The draft of 2010 proposed three years’ imprisonment or a fine, or both, for the first offence. Subsequence offences could be punished with a jail term of five years or a fine.

“The Bill is likely to be introduced and passed in the winter session of Parliament. We have held several consultative meets with the industry and women’s rights groups, and they mostly agree with the changes,” said a senior health ministry official.

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