Updated: December 6, 2021 9:46:21 am
Last week, the Lok Sabha passed the Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) Regulation Bill that sets standards and codes of conduct for fertility clinics and sperm banks in the country. The piece of legislation caters to a longstanding need. In the past 20 years, the increase in the number of ART clinics in India has been amongst the highest in the world. They cater to a burgeoning medical tourism industry and significantly, to a growing section of the country’s population that is turning to ARTs such as gamete donation, intrauterine dissemination, in-vitro fertilisation and intracytoplasmic sperm injection to have children. Because of declining fertility rates, a substantial section of Indians marrying later than the generation before them, and the increasing provenance of single parenthood, the use of such technologies is bound to grow. At the same time, more than 80 per cent of clinics in the country offering ART facilities are reportedly unregistered. The ethical as well as safety-related issues germane to this regulatory deficit have been a part of conversation for two decades. The ICMR did lay down guidelines for ART clinics in 2005. But these protocols did not have any legislative backing. If the ART Bill becomes a law, it would be incumbent on clinics to ensure that commissioning couples, women and gamete donors are tested according to the established protocols. It also provides for a database of ART clinics in the country. In spite of the broad scope of the Bill it would be, however, pertinent to see legislation in the area as a work in progress — it will demand more sensitivity from lawmakers in dealing with changing social, demographic and medical trends.
The Bill does tick several right boxes in stipulating that the clinics provide counselling about the chances of success, costs, side-effects and risks, including that of multiple pregnancies. Importantly, it talks of informed consent of donors and legalises ART procedures for live-in couples and single women. However, as several members pointed out in the debate in the Lok Sabha, the bill discriminates against LGBTQ and single male parents. It goes against the spirit of the Supreme Court’s landmark verdict in Navtej Johar v Union of India and assumes a formalistic position on the rights of same-sex couples to raise a family.
It seems that the heteronormative line of thinking of the Surrogacy Bill passed by the Lok Sabha in 2019 — the Rajya Sabha referred it to a select committee — has driven the ART Bill when it should have been the other way around given that the ART sector is more expansive than the surrogacy sector. The Upper House must take the conversation further and make sure that the law keeps up with the inclusive potential of reproductive technologies.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on December 6, 2021 under the title ‘A code in progress’
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