Earlier last month, a couple in our family successfully got custody of their newborn through surrogacy. Filled with emotional highs and lows, the past nine months left the parents-to-be disillusioned about the prevailing surrogacy practices. Following a successful embryo transfer, the surrogate, after receiving a hefty advance payment, went underground despite the formal facilitation of the process by a reputed gynaecologist. She appeared only a month after delivery to hand over the parents' prized possession. The blessed parents swiftly forgot their misery as soon as all the paperwork was completed and they received their little bundle of joy in their hands. After all, their dream of having their biological child had finally come true.
As for me, the entire experience has left me wondering about the helplessness and anxiety faced by countless parents dealing with surrogate mothers and also about the potential exploitation of women going through surrogacy.
The choice to parent or not should be made a human right for all, irrespective of their marital status, sexual orientation or infertility history.
In 2016, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare put forward a draft Surrogacy Bill for review and approval by the Parliament. The bill, which continues to suffer delays, is aimed at reforming the current practices, particularly when it comes to protecting surrogate mothers and preventing their exploitation. However, while the provisions made in the bill are well intentioned, it goes too far and suggests a complete ban on commercial surrogacy. Further, the bill is against extending the joys of surrogacy to single parents, unmarried couples, homosexual couples and parents with less than five years of failure of pregnancy. The bill advocates altruistic surrogacy alone. Only a close relative of the intended parents, according to the bill, can act as a surrogate.
Today, India offers families from all over the world a safe and economical haven to have children via reproductive technology. Benefiting from progress in medical science should be a universal human right. The above provisions in the bill are irrational and unforgiving in a world where the choice to parent or not should be made a human right for all, irrespective of their marital status, sexual orientation or infertility history. As for altruistic surrogacy, chances are that close relatives are unlikely to fulfil the criteria for surrogacy in most cases.
I believe that that commercial surrogacy if practised under a sound legal framework and sensible regulation can be the answer to the woes of aspiring parents. A carefully worded contract outlining the expectations from both parties can take the stress out of this process for surrogates as well as parents who are unable to bear their own children.
I hope that the bill will see further deliberation leading to a more liberal and rational version of it being formalised before it becomes a law. Failing that, the dreams of thousands will be quashed because of a regressive political decision.