The Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill 2016, cleared by the Union Cabinet, has been criticised by doctors and gay rights activists as “anti-liberal”. DR Soumya Swaminathan, director-general of the Indian Council of Medical Research, who had an important role in drafting the bill, in a candid talk with Teena Thacker justifies the new legislation citing how it will end exploitation of poor and vulnerable, and will actually help needy infertile Indian couples.
Why did the government decide to take up the issue of surrogacy, leaving behind all other assisted reproductive technologies, given the fact that the proposed Assisted Reproduc-tive Technology Bill was in making since 2008?
There were many parliamentary assurances and a PIL in the Supreme Court was also filed, asking for regulation of surrogacy. There was an urgent need to regulate this growing and booming industry. Now that the first stage has passed, we will soon put our minds on bringing a legislation to regulate other forms of ART, like IVF, sperm banks, embryo transfers, etc.
Since the surrogacy bill talks only about altruistic surrogacy, how would you define “close relatives”?
There is still a long process to go before the bill is finally passed by Parliament. There will be rules and the definition of “close relatives” that will be defined in the rules, will be framed soon.
Don’t you think that the law explicitly discriminates homosexuals?
No, this is a side issue. There is a very small proportion of people needing surrogacy. Gay people have an option of adoption. So it’s not that all the doors are closed for them.
When a single man can adopt a child then why he is not allowed to go for surrogacy? Don’t you think that both adoption rules and surrogacy bill contradict each other?
The adoption rules clearly say that a man can only adopt a male child. However, in surrogacy it is not possible, as one cannot predict in surrogacy whether the child will be a girl or a boy.
In many families, when a child is born out of surrogacy, not even immediate blood relatives of the couple get to know due to social ostracisation. How-ever, the proposed bill will make the identity of the surrogate mother open not only to the family, but to others as well. Don’t you think it’s giving too much information to everyone, and puts one’s privacy at stake?
It is happening in India and many other countries where a close relative is a surrogate mother. There have not been any documented problems, so I don’t think it will affect relationships or privacy of any individual or a couple.
How did you come to the conclusion that the couple had to be married for five years before approaching for surrogacy?
Five years is a reasonable time for any couple to have lived together, to have tried and tested. You want to give time to a couple so that surrogacy can be used as a last option and five years is a pretty good time.
Don’t you think that altruistic surrogacy only through close relatives will lead to a complex situation later in life of both, the surrogate mother and the child born out of surrogacy?
This has been a cultural practice in India for a long time — family members giving birth to babies and handing over to infertile relatives. So far, there have been no problems documented from either side. Therefore, predicting or assuming such problems is too farfetched.
The draft bill also talks of establishing a National Surrogacy Board and state surrogacy boards and will designate authorities at the district level to review the eligibility of couples inten-ding to engage surrogates. How will it work?
There will be rules that will be framed soon. The National Surrogacy Board will work under the chairmanship of the Union health minister and the state boards will have a DG level officer, a representative from a NGO, eminent medical practitioner, among others. The surrogacy clinics will have to be registered under these boards at both levels.
Infertility groups have criticised the proposed law saying it could lead to an illegal industry. Your comment.
Laws will need to be implemented properly, like any other rules or regulations in the country. Proper implementation of law is important to safeguard such apprehensions.
Various IVF experts have also been saying that the bill would end up denying millions of Indian women the opportunity to take advantage of advancements in medical science. What do you think?
There are other reproductive technologies available and have not been banned yet.
For some women, surrogacy is a means to earn livelihood. When you decided to ban commercial surrogacy, did you take into consideration this aspect and such women? Don’t you think it’s unfair as poor women were able to earn a good amount of money?
There was an issue of exploitation of surrogate mother and the issue of abandonment of the child was another major concern. The poor and vulnerable women are being exploited in the name of surrogacy and paid a very small amount for renting out their wombs. A majority of these women don’t understand the legal documents being drawn up for their services. The new bill, once enacted, will abolish that practice. In any case, selling your body should not be a livelihood option and the new legislation will tighten the noose.
Whether a couple wants to go for surrogacy, first child, second child, disabled child, are individual decisions. Don’t you think restricting it seems like too much of dictating?
Surrogacy is generally used as a last option. Through this legislation, the government is only trying to restrict surrogacy and not let it be an easy method for people who have other options....