Bill stuck, no check on surrogacy business

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.

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