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Bill stuck,no check on surrogacy business

Yet another Parliament session has passed by and the Assisted Reproductive Techniques (ART) Bill 2010

Written by Abantika Ghosh | Newdelhi |
December 26, 2013 5:29:06 am

Earlier this month,a 28-year-old woman in Madhya Pradesh’s Satna gave birth to 10 still-born babies. While multiple pregnancies are not unusual,pregnancies with three or more babies are almost always associated with assisted reproductions.

In July,an NGO released findings of a survey that exposed largescale exploitation of surrogate mothers by forcing them to stay away from families in shelter homes,handing them Rs 3-4 lakh for a pregnancy that is actually creating business worth 10 times that amount. Several cities of Gujarat,including Ahmedabad and Anand,have become surrogacy hubs of India.

Lack of coherent guidelines on assisted reproductive techniques and surrogacy have over the years caused suffering and cost several lives,yet a legislation that was to have brought some method to the madness continues to hang fire over,among other things,moral debates about the sexual orientation of parents and their marital status.

Yet another Parliament session has passed by and the Assisted Reproductive Techniques (ART) Bill 2010 — in the drafting stage for three years now and in the pipleine for a decade — is not even ready to go to the cabinet.

The ART Bill lays down guidelines for assisted pregnancies and management of gamete banks,delinking ART clinics from the banks which provide sperm and ovum for a couple in need of either. It sets minimum standards for ART clinics and also lays down the maximum number of times a woman may become a surrogate mother or a man can donate sperms.

While the former is aimed at protecting the health of a woman and to save her from possible exploitation,the latter is a safeguard against diseases that often result in populations that have rampant consanguinity.

A recent survey on surrogacy by a Delhi-based NGO claims that foreigners form 40 per cent of the clientele. Ballpark estimations suggest approximately 2,000 babies are born every year in India through commercial surrogacy. Figures from the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) claim that surrogacy is a $2.3 billion industry in India.

“We had circulated the draft Bill and have received comments from all ministries. The secretary,health research,will soon chair a meeting to finalise the changes in the Bill taking into account the suggestions and comments of the various ministries. We have not taken a call on any of them so far but we are hoping that the cabinet note will be ready to be sent to the Law Ministry within a month’s time,” said a senior Health Ministry official dealing with the Bill.

Home Ministry’s resistance to allow gay couples from abroad to avail ART services here has been a matter of contention for long and ICMR had astutely left the matter to the Supreme Court’s call on the plea for reading down Section 377 IPC to exclude consensual gay relations. With the apex court’s negative verdict on the matter,sources say gates are likely to remain closed for homosexual couples whether from India or abroad till the court revises its decision.

“Our take is clear. Any relationship that is legal in the country,marriage,live-in,homosexual whatever be it,such a couple can avail the services,even individuals can. However,after the verdict,homosexual relationships are clearly not legal so a gay couple cannot have a baby through ART/surrogacy,” said an official.

The Women and Child Development Ministry in its comments has been critical of the Bill for being more in the interest of private providers and commissioning couples than surrogate mothers and found the provision that only married couples can opt for ART “too narrow”. The Bill has also run afoul of the Planning Commission which is unhappy that views of NGOs working in the field for years have not been incorporated.

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