Controversy over the surrogacy bill

We get celebrities to give their take on a current issue each week and lend their perspective to a much-discussed topic.

A 31-member Parliamentary Standing committee tabled a report on the proposed Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill. Criticising the government for restricting the eligibility for surrogacy only to heterosexual married couples, they called the proposed legislation too narrow in its approach for not taking into account the likes of couples in live-in relationships, divorced or widowed women, single parents, and homosexuals.

They also nixed the idea of a blanket ban on commercial surrogacy, calling it ‘grossly unfair’ to expect women to carry a baby and give birth for free. The idea of making surrogacy and altruistic undertaking was rejected.

Another suggestion also included providing insurance for the surrogate, instead of narrowing down the scope of close relatives only being able to act as surrogates to avoid exploitation.

We speak to lawmakers and fertility specialists, as well as celebrities, on whether these proposed changes will actually help make things better for people opting for surrogacy.

‘It is a good thing that the bill was tabled’
Flavia Agnes, Advocate

It’s a good thing that the bill was tabled since it is so narrow in its scope — it only allows married couples to go in for surrogacy.

I also think that there needs to be more in the bill about the protection of the rights of the surrogate. When there is no airtight agreement between the doctor, parents and surrogate, the surrogate suffers, since she often comes from a less literate and economically backward background. Restricting surrogacy to the family narrows the scope.

‘Every woman has the right to become a mother’
Abha Singh, Advocate, Bombay High Court

Surrogacy works on the premise that every woman has the right to become a mother — exclusion of live-in couples, homosexuals, etc. was done by the Surrogacy Bill. The Parliamentary Committee clearly mentions that one in every three IVFs is not registered.

If we bring such strict laws in surrogacy, then it will be done in the grey market and thus we will not be able to protect the interest of the surrogate mother. The Parliamentary Committee is very right when it prefers to go first for the Assisted Reproductive Treatment Act (ART) Act of 2008, which was made in a very systematic manner and which is more sensible.

In today’s times, when we speak about LGBTQ community’s rights, rights of the widows, etc, how does being married and not married affect her decision? These laws should be in favour of the poor and this bill would deprive the poor from having a surrogate child.

‘These laws should not be forced on people’
Tejasvi Surya, Lawyer, High Court of Karnataka

Laws have to evolve over time, but having said that, there also has to be a larger degree of consensus on these laws. What we need is a larger debate and an inclusive approach when it comes to couples or single parents opting to have a child. However, these laws should not be forced on people, without adequate deliberation to consider the various prospects looming over the issue.

As for the blanket ban on commercial surrogacy, India is one of the largest markets for surrogacy among developing countries. Without proper regulations, the issue can mushroom as an underground business, so instead of an ultimatum like a blanket ban, other practices have to be considered.

‘What should be checked is the background of the parents’
Shana Susan Ninan, writer and mother

Three things struck me in the bill: commercial surrogacy, limiting it to married heterosexual couples, and third limiting it to Indian couples. If you don’t pay, how does one compensate for the time and effort of the surrogate mother? What about the nine months of salary that the surrogate mom loses in case she can’t go to work?

Secondly, be it single people or homosexuals or regular couples, what should be checked is the background of the parents — whether they have any criminal records or whether they are mentally stable.

Thirdly, if we can give Indian children away to foreign couples, why can’t we have foreigners bear Indian children? Of course the same background check is also applicable to them. And, most of all, the government should have access to the progress of these individuals, at least until working age.

‘Ban on commercial surrogacy may create a black market’
Nirmala Agarwal, Senior fertility expert

I support the proposal of the parliamentary panel that surrogate mothers should be provided with insurance and agree that a blanket ban on commercial surrogacy is a bad idea. It will create a black market with under the table transactions. However, I do agree with the government’s decision of allowing surrogacy for only married couples. It is in the interest of the baby. A child needs both a father and a mother. If homosexuals opt for surrogacy, even three families could be involved since egg donation needs to happen along with surrogacy. This could create confusion.

‘Homosexuals prefer surrogacy’
Satish Kumar K, Advocate,

A problem with the current policies is that the government is trying to make adoption a more tangible option than surrogacy. However, I think adoption and surrogacy should stand on equal footing. Homosexual couples prefer surrogacy over adoption since a biological factor is involved. Also, the number of applicants for adoption is four times greater than the number of children available for adoption. Adoption may be a benevolent choice but should not be the only choice.With the increased medical facilities available like IVF and ART, surrogacy is gaining importance among infertile couple, homosexuals and singles.

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