NEW DELHI :
The government on Thursday sent the Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2019, to a select committee of the Rajya Sabha for review. The bill seeks to ban commercial surrogacy in India.
Union health minister Harsh Vardhan moved a resolution in the Upper House after a two-day debate, wherein members had sought amendments to certain provisions of the proposed legislation.
Members sought a review of the provision, which allows only a close relative to act as a surrogate for couples who are married for at least five years, and within the age group of 23-50 years for women, and 26-55 for men. Some members were of opinion that with the changing fabric of the society, getting close relatives to act as a surrogate will be difficult. Women’s health and welfare organizations have also said that the select committee should pay attention to various issues which have not been addressed in the bill.
“The surrogacy bill was moved without any consultation with surrogates or their associations. The joint parliamentary committee was the first ever to take opinion from surrogate mothers, but they discarded all recommendations," said Shivani Sachdev Gour, general secretary, Indian Society for Third Party Assisted Reproduction (INSTAR).
“Close relatives, such as sisters or cousins, being told to carry babies for their brother or sister, in a country like India, may be a problem. The committee should review it," she added.
The proposed bill, which was introduced on 15 July, prohibits commercial surrogacy, but allows only altruistic surrogacy, which does not involve monetary compensation to the surrogate mother, other than the medical expenses and insurance coverage during the pregnancy. At present, commercial surrogacy in India, includes related procedures, for monetary benefits or rewards in cash or kind, exceeding the basic medical expenses and insurance coverage. According to the bill, surrogacy will only be permitted when it is for intending couples who suffer from proven infertility.
“The bill allows payment only under insurance and hospital expenses for the surrogate mother and completely overlooks childcare costs, loss of wages, maternity clothes, and travel postpartum care expenses. The bill also overlooks questions about breastfeeding, besides banning non-resident Indians and people of Indian origin, as well as the LGBTQ community to be surrogate mothers," Gour said.
Gynecologists said the government should also promote adoption. “Surrogacy bill in principle is good to assure quality care and prevent exploitation of poor commercial surrogates, but getting a family member to do altruistic surrogacy is almost impossible in today’s nuclear materialistic families. This needs further deliberation to define near relation, and how to identify and confirm them," said R.K. Sharma, an IVF expert and former professor of the Army Hospital (Research and Referral), New Delhi.
“We also need to strengthen the adoption programme in a big way in India so that it becomes easier and simpler for childless couples to adopt a child. The parliamentary committee reviewing it should discuss the matter with all stakeholders, including patients, surrogates and doctors providing the services," Sharma said.
Calling for a rational decision on the issue, following consultations with various sections of the society, Manasi Mishra, head of research division, Centre for Social Research (CSR), an advocacy group for women, said: “We don’t have any concrete law regarding assisted reproductive technology, particularly in surrogacy, which concerns health repercussion for disadvantaged women of the society, hence, the law should be passed without delay."
“We should have a national monitoring committee with the presence of members of the civil society for unbiased decisions regarding issues surrounding surrogacy," she added.