Baby steps

Health ministry's zeal is misdirected, but responsible practices must become the norm for surrogacy

India could be inching towards a surrogacy law, with the health ministry having pulled out and dusted the Assisted Reproductive Technologies (Regulation) Bill, the first version of which was drafted in 2008. The directorate general of health services now suggests that surrogacy should be an option available only to married, infertile couples of Indian origin. This leaves out foreigners, who account for 40 per cent of the surrogacy clientele, as well as gay or unmarried couples. The ministry's regulatory zeal appears misdirected, and shows traces of insularity and a starchy morality.

There is, however, a strong case for regulation. Worth $2.3 billion, commercial surrogacy has reached the scale of an industry in India and draws thousands of foreigners every year, largely because it is unregulated and cheaper than in other countries. States such as Gujarat, which has a proliferation of IVF and surrogacy clinics, boast of "reproductive tourism". But surrogacy in India is inevitably attended by harrowing stories of exploitation. Surrogate mothers, mostly poor and illiterate, are often made to live in secrecy, crowded into closely guarded "homes" and allowed limited access to their families. Forced miscarriages and sex selection are rampant. Practices like egg harvesting are carried out with little regard for the donor's life. In a country with high maternal mortality rates and few reproductive rights, surrogate mothers are doubly vulnerable.

India is one of the few countries that allow commercial surrogacy. Russia, Ukraine and certain states of the US are among the other global destinations. Though "reproductive tourists" are welcomed, most of these places have enacted laws to regulate surrogacy. California, for instance, requires that both the intended parents and the surrogate be represented by separate legal counsel. India must also adopt and enforce responsible, safe practices.

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