Wednesday, August 31st, 2016

Proposed Surrogacy Bill 2016: The debate continues…

Shilpi Tandon | August 31, 2016 1:54 pm Print
The Centre has been facing backlash over the draft which seeks a complete ban on commercial surrogacy and allowing only legally-wedded Indian couples to opt it. Unmarried individuals, LGBTs, foreigners, NRIs and those in a live-in partnership, who are barred from surrogacy according to the Bill, call it a ‘diktat’ forced upon them, a ‘breach’ on their right to become a parent
Picture for representational purposes only

“There is a searing pain that comes from… preparing a place in your heart for a child that never comes”- Anonymous

‘Janamashtami… a day to celebrate the birth of Lord Krishna whose popular childhood tales and affection for his foster mother Yashoda fill every woman’s heart of a child bearing age with a longing for her ’own’ offspring….!! Putting a ban on Surrogacy, and, that too, just a day earlier, shattered many childless women’s hopes and hearts…. crashed their dreams, resulting in diverse brainy and intellectual outpours and outbursts.

The proposed draft Surrogacy Bill 2016, which was passed by the Union Cabinet on August 24th, Wednesday, is expected to be introduced in the Parliament. According to this draft,
– The Health Ministry has proposed to ban commercial surrogacy
– Foreign nationals, including NRIs, are banned to seek an Indian surrogate mother
– Legal for infertile heterosexual Indian married couples only
– Age bar for woman and man is 23-50 and 26-55, respectively
– A heterosexual Indian couple can choose surrogacy only after 5 years of marriage after their infertility is proved
– Surrogate mother has to be a close relative
– Surrogate mother will not be paid for carrying the child
– Couples, who already have a child, either of their own or adopted, are not eligible
– A couple can have only one surrogate child

The Centre has been facing backlash over the draft which seeks a complete ban on commercial surrogacy and allowing only legally-wedded Indian couples to opt it. Unmarried individuals, LGBTs, foreigners, NRIs and those in a live-in partnership, who are barred from surrogacy according to the Bill, call it a ‘diktat’ forced upon them, a ‘breach’ on their right to become a parent.

“Banning commercial surrogacy will send some couples to black market and deprive other couples of the chance of children,” Ranjana Kumari, director of the Centre for Social Research, told AFP.

Dr Nayana Patel has delivered thousands of surrogate babies at Akanksha Infertility Clinic in Anand, Gujarat, and said the answer was tighter regulations, not a ban. She said: “Surrogacy filled a void in many lives”.

UK-based Rekha Patel had a surrogate baby at Dr. Nayana’s clinic. She has started an online petition against the ban titled “Stop the ban on surrogacy in India”. Lately, Twitter has also been full of disparate tweets opposing the draft…

Desperate childless men and women are socially pressurised, with women often flooded with unsolicited ‘uterus updates’ and men with queries regarding their reproductive organs’ tests. As friends and colleagues get hitched and have babies, sometimes they feel like stragglers.

Sometimes women who, at a young age, think about having children “someday”… grow older and find that that day actually never came. The realization perhaps gets exacerbated by the fact that biology of a woman at 45 is vastly different from that at 25, turning the condition miserable. Fertility is a window that closes….!!
But as Helen Keller quotes, “When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often, we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.”

This draft definitely goes wrong for such people, who often tends to marry late, cross the ideal age limit and, therefore, may lose ‘that’ precious time of ‘trying’ this option of having a baby of their own.

Moreover, the condition to make a family member a surrogate mother can result in humiliation, embarrassment, criticism, heart-piercing queries not only from the family, but also from the society. Heart-wrenching queries are quite common for the childless people, like, “You must not really have wanted to have a child or you would have one”, “Maybe God knew you wouldn’t have made a good parent”, “Well, why didn’t you try and adopt?”, “God has another plan for you” etc.

The proposed draft Bill supports altruistic surrogacy where a surrogate mother agrees to gestate a child for intended parents without being compensated monetarily in any way. In other words, this is in effect, a ‘free surrogacy’. The reason behind barring of payment to surrogate mothers is also not clear. Surrogacy has given many Indian poor women the chance of a better life for themselves and their families. It empowers them and offers a chance to escape the torturous poverty cycle. They choose to act as surrogates of their own free will.

Barring foreigners and NRIs could prove counterproductive too. It can even offer an opportunity for corruption and exploitation, pushing surrogacy into unethical hands. As someone said, “Having a woman help you have a baby does not mean you are “renting a womb”, it means that every morning when you wake up to the cuddles of that baby, you are grateful to the woman who helped you realise this dream. And when a foreigner has this bond with India, their family will always think of the country as Mother India.”

However, some people have come out in support of the proposed Bill. Dr (Brig) R.K Sharma, HoD at IVF Primus Super Speciality Hospital, said: “We are fortunate that we are in this noble work where we can provide the joy of parenthood to people not only from our own country, but from people all around the world. But, indirectly it creates a negative impact about our country that our women are so poor that they rent their womb for survival. If this is banned, it would be beneficial for our image.”

According to BBC, India is becoming a major surrogacy hub because it is easy to find women here who are willing to be surrogates, there’s good medical technology and it’s cheap. It had grown into an industry worth $2.3 billion and according to official estimates, 5,000 surrogate babies were being born here every year. Many legal experts also opine that poverty, illiteracy and lack of authority over their own bodies are the driving forces behind the surrogacy market. Surrogacy is often portrayed as ‘Rich foreigners exploiting the poor women of India’.

Minister of External AffairsSushma Swaraj also lashed out at celebrities for opting for surrogacy, making it a ‘trend’. She said: “This Bill will prohibit commercial surrogacy…… This is a draft Bill which aims to safeguard the rights of surrogate mothers and make parentage of such children legal”. Surprisingly, Maneka Gandhi (Minister of Women and Child Development) has been strangely quiet on this crucial Bill involving both women and children.

Shilpi Tandon
Shilpi Tandon
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