Suffering from thalassaemia, a genetic disorder, 29-year-old Nidhi Mehra (name changed) needs blood transfusions and getting pregnant would only worsen her condition. “It is only when women have health- related issues that they seek options. What is wrong with that,” she asked while vehemently opposing the draft bill that bans commercial surrogacy.
Thirty-five-year old Avani Patil (name changed) who could not conceive due to fibroids in her uterus had even tried to adopt a baby. “That plan fell through and we waited for 10 years after our marriage for a child. Am I wrong if I can help some needy woman by renting her womb for Rs 3 to 4 lakhs because of my own health problems,” Avani says.
Avani hired a surrogate mother after checking her background and agreed to support her medical expenses. “I checked various details. She was the wife of a construction worker who has a daughter and it was her first time as a surrogate mother. She was happy with the money and I checked on her daily. Today, I have a three-month-old daughter,” said Avani.
Nidhi too selected a surrogate mother who was also economically backward. She had been a surrogate earlier and knew exactly what was required by the couple. “This was comforting as all her medical tests were normal and after implanting the embryo in her womb, she is now three months pregnant,” Nidhi says.
However, the new draft bill proposes a complete ban on commercial surrogacy. Various clauses have had doctors rue this as unjust and insensitive, which does not take into account the plight of a woman who, due to health reasons, cannot have her own baby. A draft law that aims at making surrogacy legal and transparent is now being termed by several doctors as messy and complicated. “Too many questions have been left unanswered—especially pertaining to the criteria that the surrogate mother should be a blood relative,” says Dr Amita Phadnis, Director of ONP hospital.
According to the bill, foreigners and overseas Indians are also barred from commissioning a surrogacy, a woman is allowed to be a surrogate mother only for altruistic purposes and will be paid only medical expenses and will be among the family’s relatives. Unmarried couples, single parents, live in partners and homosexuals cannot opt for surrogacy as per the new bill.
Dr Sunita Tandulwadkar, Director of IVF centre at Ruby Hall Clinic, says that some of the clauses are extremely unjust. “In an age of nuclear families, is it really possible that a relative will offer her womb to carry the pregnancy?” Tandulwadkar says that it is only due to advanced technology that surrogacies are possible. “We have taken several steps backwards,” she says.
Dr Narendra Malhotra, president of the Indian Society for Assisted Reproduction (ISAR), says that one in 100 women who have undergone in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) require surrogacy. There are nearly 1,000 IVF centres across the country out of which some 50-60 are engaged in surrogacy. Commercial surrogacy need not be banned, but can be regulated properly, Malhotra said, adding that the ISAR members will be sending a ‘strongly-worded letter to the Prime Minister’,opposing the draft bill. Women in India who become surrogates are normally from impoverished backgrounds and exploitation of such women has been cited as the reason for the decision to ban the practice, Advocate Radhika Thapar, legal advisor and spokesperson for ISAR said. However, the government has taken a narrow view of the entire issue of surrogacy by confining it to only close members of the family, Thapar added.