Pune: Experts raise doubts on ‘Surrogacy Bill’

At a national conference on surrogacy held in Pune on Thursday, January 31, 2019 health experts pointed out the flaws in the recently passed Surrogacy Bill 2018 by Lok Sabha

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While regulating surrogacy is must, experts explained how the current bill is moralistic, paternalistic and patriarchal in its approach toward the issue.

An absence of compensation to the surrogate mother; along with an arbitrary five year waiting period for surrogate parenthood; exclusion of live-in couples, divorced women and widows for opting this method; and lack of clarity on rights of child and surrogate mother – are some of the lacunas that were pointed out by panellists present at the event.

The conference was organised by Maharashtra State Commission for Women (MSCW). Around 200 experts from all over India were present at the conference. Vijaya Rahatkar, head of MSCW said that debating different aspects in the current bill was the objective of this conference which was organised today.

Dr Indira Ahuja, who had successfully delivered India’s first test tube baby, said, “Every couple deserves a child and if technology is used legally, surrogacy can be a huge boon to infertility couples. If a woman in rural area needs help for surrogacy, it is an equal moral responsibility of us as citizens to help her as it is of the government.” Dr Ahuja inaugurated the conference.

One of the speakers at the event, Dr Nandita Palshetkar, National President of the Federation of Obstetric and Gynaecological Societies of India (FOGSI), said, “If one gets paid maternity leave, then, why not a compensation be provided to a surrogate mother for the work hours lost. Also, when only blood relatives are allowed, the fact that family pressure may turn into emotional exploitation cannot be avoided. Also, a child would find emotionally confusing to have genetic mother and birth mother both within proximity. How will we address such issues which will come with allowing only blood relative to be a surrogate mother?”

While another speaker, Dr Rita Bakshi, chairperson of International Fertility Centre, said, “When we are asking NRI’s to invest in India, banning them for surrogacy is illogical. Also, the bill is silent about rights of intending parents along with rights of surrogates.”

Advocate Amit Karkhanis, who also spoke about the legal aspects in the bill, said, “The bill has many lacunas and some of the aspects might not stand the scrutiny of challenge if it is challenged in Supreme Court. The five year time line is so unthoughtfully kept in the bill that it must be challenged. People are getting married in their 30’s and 40’s. Also, if woman does not have a uterus why should a couple wait for five years? The provision of five years violates the right to reproductive autonomy.”

Dr Sanjay Gupte, a gynaecologist from Pune, who also spoke at the conference, said, “There must be national registry made where names of all the surrogate mothers will be registered and it will be easy to monitor.”

The bill mentions that only ‘altruistic’ surrogacy within the blood relatives is allowed and undertaking surrogacy for a fee is punishable offence.

The experts said that the word ‘altruistic’ should be replaced by the word ‘compensation’. Also, by restricting it only to blood relatives, the patriarchal approach of woman’s womb being the property of family is underlined, mentioned experts.

Dr Jaya Sagade, vice-Principal, ILS, Law College, Pune, who was moderator of the one the sessions during the course of the conference, said, “Let’s hope that this bill does not become law in its current form. It is moralistic and paternalistic in its approach. When the Supreme Court has recognised live-in relationships, the law does not permit live-in couples to avail surrogacy. Divorced women and widowed are also excluded.”

Crucial Highlights of the Surrogacy Bill (2016), which was recently passed by Lok Sabha:

  • The intending couple must be Indian citizens and married for at least five years with at least one of them being infertile.
  • The surrogate mother has to be a close relative who has been married and has had a child of her own.
  • No payment other than reasonable medical expenses can be made to the surrogate mother.

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