Adoption is an underutilised option that can not only give happiness to a childless couple but also provide a future for an orphan child
Surrogacy is when a woman carries a baby for another couple and gives up the baby at birth. In the past decade, commercial surrogacy has grown tremendously in India. It is currently estimated to be a $2-billion industry. Before November 2015, when the government imposed a ban, foreigners accounted for 80 per cent of surrogacy births in the country. This is because most countries, barring a few such as Russia, Ukraine and some U.S. states, do not permit commercial surrogacy. Many countries in Europe have completely prohibited surrogacy arrangements, both to protect the reproductive health of the surrogate mother as well as the future of the newborn child.
The debate began when, in 2008, a Japanese doctor couple commissioned a baby in a small town in Gujarat. The surrogate mother gave birth to a healthy baby girl. By then the couple had separated and the baby was both parentless and stateless, caught between the legal systems of two countries. The child is now in her grandmother’s custody in Japan but has not obtained citizenship, as surrogacy is not legal in Japan.
In 2012, an Australian couple who had twins by surrogacy, arbitrarily rejected one and took home the other. A single mother of two from Chennai decided to become a surrogate mother in the hope that the payment would help her start a shop near her house. She delivered a healthy child, but her hopes bore little fruit for herself. She received only about Rs.75,000, with an autorickshaw driver who served as a middleman, taking a 50 per cent cut. After repaying the loans, she did not have enough money. On January 29, 2014, 26-year-old Yuma Sherpa died in the aftermath of a surgical procedure to harvest eggs from her body, as part of the egg donation programme of a private clinic based in New Delhi.
These incidents highlight the total disregard for the rights of the surrogate mother and child and have resulted in a number of public interest litigations in the Supreme Court to control commercial surrogacy. The 228th report of the Law Commission of India also recommended prohibiting commercial surrogacy and allowing ethical altruistic surrogacy to needy Indian citizens by enacting a suitable legislation.
The Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2016 proposes to regulate surrogacy in India by permitting it as an option for couples who cannot naturally have children, have a lack of other assisted reproductive technology options, are keen to have a biological child, and can find a surrogate mother among their relatives. Altruistic surrogacy, which means an arrangement without transfer of funds as inducement, is currently practised in some centres in India, though the majority of surrogacy centres use women who are paid for their services. The child born through surrogacy will have all the rights of a biological child. Indian infertile couples between the ages of 23-50 years (woman) and 26-55 (man) who have been married for five years and who do not have a surviving child will be eligible for surrogacy. The surrogate mother should be a close relative of the intending couple and between the ages of 25-35 years and shall act as a surrogate mother only once in her lifetime. Implementation will be through the national and State surrogacy boards. Any establishment found undertaking commercial surrogacy, abandoning the child, exploiting the surrogate mother, selling or importing a human embryo shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term not be less than 10 years and with a fine up to Rs.10 lakh. Registered surrogacy clinics will have to maintain all records for a minimum period of 25 years.
While infertility is a growing problem in India, there are many different ways of making a family. Adoption is an underutilised option that can not only give happiness to a childless couple but also provide a home and a future for an orphan child. While the Bill will now be placed before Parliament and the details debated, the basic tenet of disallowing commercial surrogacy is at its heart, and will remain.
Dr. Soumya Swaminathan is Director General, Indian Council of Medical Research.
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