With the Centre’s proposed Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) Bill likely to be tabled in the winter session of Parliament, foreigners and those not included in the “couple” category may be unable to avail the services of an Indian surrogate.
Simply put, the Bill narrows the services to Indian couples or a foreigner married to an Indian citizen. This will put the brakes on the surrogacy business, which currently stands at Rs. 900 crore and is a growing industry.
Also, by defining a couple as a married man and woman, the proposed Bill shuts the door on homosexuals and people in live-in relationships.
“Surrogacy is a method of assisted reproduction. The Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) industry has evolved into a multi-billion rupee industry. India is internationally known as a booming centre of a fertility market. The industry is growing fast because of cutting-edge technology, trained medical staff, availability of rented wombs, and the fact that it offers very competitive pricing,” said Dr. Rita Bakshi, a member of the Indian Society of Third Party Assisted Reproduction (INSTAR).
India is among a handful of countries — which includes Georgia, Russia, Thailand, Ukraine and a few States in the US — where women can be paid to carry a couple’s genetic child through a process of in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) and embryo transfer.
Dr. Bakshi added that if the Bill comes into force, fertility tourism in India will slip to the back seat.
“At present, close to 20 per cent of the intended parents seeking surrogates in India are foreigners. The Indian surrogacy market is pegged to be around Rs. 900 crore. According to a 2012 study by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), around 10,000 foreign couples visit India to commission surrogacy,” said Dr. Bakshi.
According to fertility experts, “transparency, ethical guidelines, regulated environment and enhanced clinical practice are the need of the hour”. They say that the business, driven by sound medical facilities, is based on simple economics.
Mr. Vivek Kohli, who runs Baby Joy IVF Centre, says the proposed Bill will lead to discrimination among Indian and foreigners and directly affect medical tourism in India.
“These days India has become the hub of medical tourism. People travel from across the world for medical treatment. If organ transplant is fine, then why this double standard for surrogacy?” Mr. Kohli asks.
However, some people have come out in support of the proposed Bill. Dr. (Brig) R.K Sharma, HOD at IVF Primus Super Speciality Hospital said: “We are fortunate that we are in this noble work where we can provide the joy of parenthood to people not only from our own country, but from people all around the world. But, indirectly it creates a negative impact about our country that our women are so poor that they rent there womb for survival. If this is banned, it would be beneficial for our image.”
Many legal experts also feel that it is “poverty, illiteracy and the lack of power that women have over their own bodies”, which is the driving force behind the surrogacy market.
Women rights groups, too, believe that the draft Bill is a step in the right direction as it will end the present confusion and help regulate the functioning of IVF centres, besides ensuring quality checks and accountability of ART clinics.
“It will also be a step forward in protecting the interest and health of the surrogate mother,” says the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA).
Dr. Richa Sharma of INSTAR, meanwhile, said that what the industry needed was a strong regulation “to streamline the ART process and stop unethical practices being carried out”.
“Often we have heard episodes of harvesting of multiple oocytes for egg extraction, implantation of multiple embryos, and the practice of embryo donation or sharing. All of these require women to undergo hormonal interventions. It is exploitation that needs to be stopped, not services,” she said.