A law inspired by the organ transplant experience

A law inspired by the organ transplant experience

A law inspired by the organ transplant experience
Trupti Rajput became a surrogate mother in the year 2008 for a New York-based couple. And helping her was a doctor based in Anand, Gujarat.  Dr Nayana Patel, who is credited or rather discredited for putting this town on the global surrogacy map.

A commerce and law graduate, the resentment Trupti has against the government is the new Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2016, that allows only ‘altruistic surrogacy’ for childless couple married for at least five years. Even in the case of ‘altruistic surrogacy’, only a ‘close relative’ of the couple can become a surrogate mother.

Trupti opted to become a surrogate mother for want of a better house. With a monthly income of Rs 3,500, it was next to impossible for a family of five to have a decent house. However, she did have one later, courtesy the Rs 4,00,000 plus incentives she received from the “childless” American couple for giving birth to their girl child. But Trupti is not alone. She is among the 1,121 women who have become surrogate mothers and overcame their financial woes in the last one decade under the watchful eyes of Dr Nayana at her swanky Akanksha Hospital and Research Centre.

“The importance a surrogate mother gets at Nayanaben’s hospital is the highest. I separated from my husband six years ago and have no income. Can I go to a dentist? Here, my teeth have been treated. Moreover, we get a salary of Rs 4,000 every month, Rs 29,000 each on reaching four and eight months of pregnancy, in addition to Rs 4,00,000 on delivery,” says a 33-year-old Meenaben, who is four-months pregnant. She is one of the 50-odd surrogate mothers staying at Akanksha.

Dr Nayana houses women like Meena in rooms at her hospital from the day IVF treatment begins, where their dietary and medical requirements are taken care of. For psychological changes, there are counsellors and trainers who impart lessons in multiple subjects, including financial planning of the money these poor women would receive post surrogacy.

 “Here we also get to acquire skills in beauty treatment and sewing. When we leave, ben gives us kit to start our business. She gives us insurance, school bags for our children, scholarships and medical treatment for family. Does government give us all this? We have to slog it out on our own,” she adds.

Like Meenaben, another 32-year-old surrogate Rekhaben Vankar, too, tells a similar story of economic hardship. “My husband is MA and B.Ed but has no job. He did odd jobs, earning Rs 80-100 per day, but met with an accident. I have two children and sometimes we cannot afford a proper meal. Here, I get to eat two vegetables, chapatti, rice, dal, fruits and even dry fruits! And once I give birth to the surrogate child, I will have money to repair my home and educate my children. I will also help make a childless couple happy. Is this a crime?” she asks.

Little wonder that these women refuse to accept that by lending their womb for a price was akin to selling the baby? “We live in a Hindu society which can never accept commercial surrogacy. We come here with complete consent of our families and we know what we are doing,” they say. A view echoed by their Dr Nayana, who believes that stopping financial aid in lieu of surrogacy without offering any viable alternative was “injustice” to these poor women. “You are telling them that because they are poor, they cannot make a choice. Which other moral or ethical way can an illiterate daily wage earner or a widow earn Rs 4,50,000 to 5,00,000 in such a short time?” she asks.

Whatever detractors may say, walk in to her hospital and you would find hordes of childless couples and elderly waiting silently for hours to meet the busy doctor. “Today, a more than 40-year-old high court judge from the north came in seeking a surrogate child. Her husband is younger to her and the family wants her to either bear a child or let her husband get remarried. Medically she cannot be a mother. 

In another case, a top IT guy came in with his wife who is unable to conceive. But they do not want to adopt a child. I do not make these choices. They do,” she says.Talking of the bill, Dr Nayana says that it appears to be inspired more from the country’s experiences in the field of organ transplants. “The government says the surrogate mother must be from the family, fertile, one who has borne a child and is below 35 years. This restricts the choice for a childless couple. It can also create social and inheritance issues. The surrogate mother in the family would see her child grow but cannot tell the child that she is his or her natural mother. There will be trouble,” says Dr Nayana.

Though she accepts the need for regulation of surrogacy in India, she expresses surprise at the content of the bill. “We don’t know if the babus or the Cabinet ministers prepared the bill, but it is definitely not with the involvement of the medical fraternity,” she said, before picking up her phone to speak, perhaps to a lawyer on exploring options to challenge the bill.

As for the surrogates, they say they will raise their voice. But where? Their answer is a smile, and then silence.
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