After the ban on surrogacy for foreign nationals, at least three official requests have reached the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) from foreign couples who wish to export their frozen embryos back from India to their native country.
Two couples are from the United States and one from United Kingdom. According to senior ICMR officials, all such requests for ‘genetic material’ export are on standby with no policy decision made so far on the matter. The Surrogacy (Regulations) Bill, 2016, approved by Union Cabinet is yet to get approved by Parliament.
A petition has been filed in the Bombay High Court by two US-based couples. IVF experts have claimed that hundreds of embryos are lying in their clinics.
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In the petition, a San Fransisco based couple, in their late forties, had imported eight frozen embryos to India in a specialized container after obtaining a No Objection Certificate from ICMR in April 2015. The couple had already attempted four IVF cycles in 2012, 2013 and 2014. Later they tried two more cycles through an egg donor in August 2014 and January 2015.
With the October 27, 2015 circular by Department of Health Research (DHR) under ICMR prohibiting surrogacy for foreign nationals, the couple can no longer undergo the procedure in India— hitting their final chances of using their frozen embryo to conceive a child.
The Powai-based Hospital in Mumbai, which had secured the embryos since 2015, has refused return of embryos following the blanket ban.
Following the Bombay High Court direction, ICMR is now drafting a policy for cases where frozen embryos are wanted back by foreign couples.
Confirming mails of three more such foreign couples have been received at ICMR, Dr Soumya Swaminathan, director of ICMR, said, “We have asked for some more time. The decision cannot be taken by one department alone. A meeting on this issue is scheduled amongst various departments including Women and Child Development, Health ministry, ICMR, Foreign ministry, Law, and Directorate General of Foreign Trade.”
Data from National Registry of ART clinics and Banks in India indicate there are 385 registered ART centers in India including 46 in Mumbai, 43 in Delhi, 19 in Bangalore, 13 in Hyderabad, 10 in Ahmedabad and 9 in Pune.
On November 5, 2015, a notification by DHR to chief secretaries and health secretaries of all states said that “import of Human Embryo is prohibited except for research purposes based on guidelines issued by “HR” and adding that ART clinics will not be allowed to import embryo for surrogacy services.
On February 24 this year, another notification from Ministry of Commerce and Industry put a ban on import as well as export of embryos.
“The embryo is property of parents. What will happen to all these frozen embryos preserved in ART clinics? We have received over 100 calls and mails from foreign couples to understand the procedure for retrieving them,” said Advocate Radhika Thapar Behl, legal advisor to Indian Society for Assisted Reproduction (ISAR). ISAR also claims following a 2012 notification banning surrogacy for single parents, single parents were give interim relief to take the‘r ‘genetic mater’al’ back until March 2013 by the central government.
“Some of our patie’ts’ embryos are lying in our ART bank. We have asked them to wait until clarity on policy comes as we do not wish to do anything that is illegal, but already a year has passed after this notification was enforced,” said Delhi-based IVF expert Dr Shivani Gaur.
According to Dr Hrishikesh Pai, IVF expert in Mumbai, ICMR should give permission on case by case basis.
“In a lot of situations expatriates fuse their sperm and egg in India and wish to take the embryo back to their country for IVF procedure. For them undergoing entire procedure again becomes difficult,” he said.