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Surrogacy regulation Bill and ART Bill passed by Rajya Sabha

🔴 While speaking in the Rajya Sabha, Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya said both the Bills seek to curb unethical practices related to issues of sex selection and exploitation of the surrogate.

Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya speaks in the Rajya Sabha during the Winter Session of Parliament. (RSTV/PTI Photo)

The Rajya Sabha on Wednesday passed both the Assisted Reproductive Technology (Regulation) Bill, 2021 as well as the Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2020, in the absence of the Opposition. The Surrogacy (regulation) Bill had earlier been passed by the Lok Sabha, but was referred to a Select Committee by the Rajya Sabha. The Bill will now be sent back to the Lok Sabha for approval.

While speaking in the Rajya Sabha, Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya said both the Bills seek to curb unethical practices related to issues of sex selection and exploitation of the surrogate.

“These Bills have been long pending. Couples would arrive in India, and buy wombs and take children back. The first test tube baby in India, a boy named Kanupriya, was born on 3rd October, 1978. Since then, for decades, IVF and surrogacy have been practiced in India,’’ said the minister, adding that it had become more than imperative to regulate both assisted reproductive technology (ART) and surrogacy in the country.

The minister added that in 2014, a 26-year-old woman died owing to complications during egg retrieval. “Under the ART, ovaries are stimulated for eggs to be extracted. This is a highly technical procedure which needs to be regulated,’’ he said.

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“Unmarried women sell their wombs to tide over financial crises. This should not happen. There has been a case in Andhra where a 74-year-old woman gave birth to twins. How will such an old person bring up their children? It is physically unhealthy and ethically wrong,” the minister said, adding that there are unregulated IVF centres all over the country and with unregulated surrogacy taking place – sex selection was happening in both ways.

“This is a progressive Bill that will curb the exploitation of women,’’ the minister said.

Mandaviya added that the Select Committee gave 64 recommendations which were studied by the government and many were incorporated in the Surrogacy Bill. “They also suggested that the ART and Surrogacy Bills be brought together, or the purpose won’t be served. And we have done this,’’ he said, adding that the aim of the Bills was to give support to motherhood, and not to create “an industry where commercial gains are made’’. The minister said that this is why the government has brought in the provision of allowing a woman to become a surrogate only once.

Mandaviya further said a year’s insurance would have to be bought in case of the ART, and in cases of surrogacy, the government has made it mandatory to provide insurance for 36 months, so that any post-birth complications or physical and mental health issues could be taken care of.

“Penalties have also been prescribed so as to curb exploitation. For unethical practices, a penalty of Rs 5-10 lakh will be levied on a first-time offender. A fine of Rs 10-20 lakh or imprisonment of eight years has been prescribed for a repeat offender,’’ the minister said.

Independent Rajya Sabha MP from Assam Ajit Kumar Bhuyan, broke away from the Opposition boycott of Rajya Sabha to oppose the Surrogacy Bill. “I am a part of the Opposition. But since this Bill is so important, I have decided to speak on it,’’ he said, staging a walk out after delivering his objections to the Bill.

“The ban on commercial surrogacy is another example of how out of touch lawmakers are with ground realities. You say this is an attempt to curb exploitation, but in fact you are curtailing the rights of woman surrogates by removing the commercial component. Is she meant to provide these services free of cost? By saying that the surrogate has to be a close relative, you exploit her further. Women come under excessive pressure even for conventional pregnancies, what is the guarantee that they will not be forced to become surrogates by their families. The Bill doesn’t take into account the violence faced by women at home. Are women to endure this highly intrusive medical procedure because of love and compassion – why should women have to be altruistic about this?’’ Bhuyan said.

Supporting the surrogacy bill, YSRCP’s Ayodhya Rama Reddy said that the government must take into account postpartum depression and make provisions for it, and that maternal benefits should be extended to both mothers. TDP’s Kanakamedala Ravindra Kumar said that ART and IVF clinics should be extended to districts across the country, so as to benefit economically weaker sections.

BJD’s Dr Amar Patnaik said that the government should consider rescinding the time-frame of one year (reduced from the earlier proposed five years) stipulated for IVF treatment before allowing people to resort to surrogacy as many women are medically unfit to have children, and suffer from little-known and undetectable illnesses such as tokophobia, or the fear of childbirth.

Both Bhuyan and Patnaik raised the issue of allowing the LGBTQ community to avail of surrogacy and not limit the Bill to heterosexual couples. “What happens to unmarried people and the LGBTQ community? Many countries allow surrogacy. The Supreme Court has said that the right to reproduce is a fundamental right in the 2016 judgement in Devika Biswas vs Union of India case – restricting the Bills to heterosexual couples is in contravention to this. ICMR guidelines allow single mothers to benefit from ART – but this is missing in both Bills,’’ Dr Patnaik said.

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