'Is banning commercial surrogacy the solution?'

Altruistic goals

'Is banning commercial surrogacy the solution?'

Bharti Dali, from Mumbai, lost her only child in an accident in 2015. “After losing my 18-year-old daughter, the void left behind was too huge to bear. My husband and I were unable to cope with it. That is when we decided to have a child through surrogacy,” says Dali.

They approached a clinic in Gujarat’s Anand, a town which is also a surrogacy hub, to have a child. Their efforts were successful and now Dali has a daughter, born just 12 days ago. She has named her newborn – Saina, after her first daughter.

Dali shares that the 32-year-old surrogate mother who was involved in the process was paid four lakhs, while the whole procedure was for 10 lakhs. “There are so many misconceptions regarding surrogate mothers. While it is true that there have been a few bad cases, not all cases are the same. I regularly visited my surrogate and checked on whether she was being provided proper medical care, good nourishment and was taken care of by the hospital facilities,” Dali says.

Talking about her surrogate, Dali says, “I want to remain in touch with the surrogate mother and connect my daughter and her; but the surrogate mother is not ready for it. She probably fears that she will get emotionally involved.”

In case of Dali, none of her relatives could have acted as a surrogate for her, if the new Surrogacy Bill had been proposed last year. “I am the youngest child in my family, all of my older sisters have hit menopause. This would no longer have been possible for them,” she says.

The new Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill 2016 not only affects commercial surrogates but has also made surrogacy impossible for gay couples, partners in live-in relationships and anyone who is not married for five years, or already has a child. The Bill only allows ‘altruistic surrogacy’, where the surrogate mother has to be a close relative and can’t be paid.

Sneha Banerji from SAMA, a resource group working for women’s health and rights, says, “For a phenomenon like surrogacy, which has been driven by an industry for about two decades now, it is difficult to implement a ban without a very robust implementation mechanism. We are not sure what the government has planned regarding this aspect since the new Bill is not in the public domain yet.  It is notable that the new legislative move does not ban the practice, but only the commerce involved it in it. That too, only as far as the remuneration to the woman acting as the surrogate is concerned.”

Opposing the bill, Dr Nayna Patel, gynaecologist and IVF Specialist at Akanksha Infertility Clinic questions, “What is wrong if a surrogate is paid? This was medical revenue that was not only helping surrogates but many other people from the hospitality industry. If done in a transparent way, this is a great employment opportunity.”

Dr Patel handles around 30 cases each month and has delivered 1,122 babies through surrogacy since 2004. Talking about the impracticality of the new Bill, she quips, “These days people have one sibling and in some cases not even that. Who are they going to approach to lend her womb? It is impossible in this generation. The new Bill is ridiculous; in this day and age how many people in a family will be ready for altruistic surrogacy? The government, making these decisions for public needs to get in touch with ground realities.”

On being asked about the various criticisms that the surrogacy industry has faced, Dr Patel says, “Surrogates are like a community at Anand; they stay together and learn vocational courses during their pregnancy. Instead of improvising on the regulations of the existing Surrogacy Act and making the lives of surrogates better, they are completely banning commercial surrogacy, which is not a solution.”

She also runs the Anand Surrogacy Trust that takes care of the surrogate mothers and their children. The trust assists them financially and also provides scholarships to 100 children of surrogate mothers each year. She cites examples of many women who have been able to help themselves and their families through financial crisis by being surrogate mothers.

One such example is Trupti Rajput, who has been a surrogate once. “Two of my relatives had been surrogates and they introduced me to this prospect. After several tests, I was cleared to be a surrogate mother. I was paid Rs 2.5 lakh in 2008 and it helped my family get a home.”

“You get the money promised as well as a monthly stipend while you are pregnant. Surrogate mothers also apply for different jobs in the hospital later. I have seen so many women get out of poverty with the help of surrogacy. If the government can’t help, they shouldn’t at least take away the avenues that we have,” she says.

Rajput says that the government could have increased the fee for surrogate mothers, introduced compulsory regular prenatal and postnatal care, introduced inspection to keep hospitals in check and could have introduced online registration for surrogate mothers for a better facilitation of the process. “How is banning commercial surrogacy the solution?” she questions.

However, Banerji says that from a rights-based perspective, it is not just economic exploitation but also the right to health is of concern, including issues of informed consent related to medical procedures involved. If the new Bill is passed, families might also coerce relatives to act as surrogates. She further explains how, “It is important to institute safeguards for the rights of women who act as surrogates. How the new Bill plans to do that, remains to be seen.”

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