Sep 19, 2008

India - Law soon on rent-a-womb deals

MUMBAI: The Centre is all set to legalise commercial surrogacy through a bill to be tabled in parliament.

The first-of-its-kind bill to control and monitor cases of surrogacy in the country has been drafted by the ministry of health and family welfare, along with the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR). The bill may be submitted to parliament in the next session.

The Assisted Reproductive Technology (Regulation) Bill and Rules, 2008, has proposed legalisation of commercial surrogacy which was earlier restricted to the relatives of proposed parents who voluntarily agree to surrogacy out of “love and affection” for the couple.

Till date, there has been no law governing surrogacy, only guidelines issued by ICMR, practised neither in letter nor spirit. Surrogacy hardly takes place without exchange of money between the proposed parents and the surrogate woman.

Under the existing guidelines, the monetary compensation that a surrogate mother receives is for maintenance and health care. However, the draft bill states under rights and duties in relation to surrogacy, “the surrogate mother may also receive monetary compensation from the couple or individual, as the case may be, for agreeing to act as such surrogate”.

“There is no agreement on paper that says that a surrogate mother will get an ‘x’ amount or a ‘y’ amount. Whatever she gets from the parents is as a part of her health care. If this bill is passed then the surrogate can claim a certain amount for bearing the child,” said advocate Amit Karkhanis, who has drafted over 15 surrogate agreements in the last year and a half.

Professor Lakshmi Lingam of Tata Institute of Social Sciences, however, said, “Most bills do not get done the way this bill did. It is a medico-business lobby that has been behind this bill and surrogacy may just turn into a sort of recruitment.” She added a lot of women from the lower-middle class may come forward and it will eventually involve agents and middlemen.

“What concerns me is also the medical tourism linked to surrogacy which may be detrimental to women,” Lingam added. “This country probably wants to open up to the world as a country that is going ahead and commercialising surrogacy but there isn’t adequate internal thinking that has gone into drafting this bill.”

The bill, however, does not mention the minimum amount that a surrogate mother can receive, leaving the quantum of monetary compensation for the surrogate ambiguous.
Karkhanis said apart from India, proposed parents will have the option of getting surrogate mothers in USA, Canada or Australia where commercial surrogacy is legal.

“But surrogacy is far more expensive in these countries. Where a surrogacy may cost a lakh of dollars in USA, in India it may be get done at $15,000. With widespread poverty in the country, India is very likely to become a surrogacy hub.”
“If it is going to be a trade,” Lingam says, “Indian surrogate mothers should be treated at par with those abroad and should be paid as much as them.”

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