The dangers of legalising commercial surrogacy

The dangers of legalising commercial surrogacy

In a country that has recently legalised commercial surrogacy, despite an outcry from the socially conscious, can we really celebrate Mother’s Day? When most countries have outlawed surrogacy arrangements involving monetary incentives, how has our government seen fit to allow such a practice in India, where there is ample scope for exploitation of our economically disadvantaged women by unscrupulous touts and vested interests?

An earlier article in these columns had highlighted the dangers of surrogacy at the time when public opinion was sought before the proposed bill legislating the Guidelines for Assisted Reproductive Techniques (ART) was passed. A letter to the ministry of health (MoH) from the author received no reply but a call was received from a member of the special committee who attempted to convince the author that the concerns were unfounded as the women were ‘volunteers’, well cared for and compensated. This was clearly biased with a conflict of interest, as it came from a specialist in assisted reproductive techniques who was then offering surrogate pregnancies as an option to infertile parents in her practice!

The Bill has now been passed but regular reports in the media of heartache and crises following surrogate arrangements indicate that the issue is far from settled. Aside from the debate on genetic parentage versus birth parentage of the surrogate babies, the profile of the women who offer to act as surrogates lends to the claim of exploitation. ‘Volunteers’ are women from lower income groups, who cite debt and financial need as a reason for their decision to volunteer, are ashamed to be photographed by journalists and openly declare that they feel an attachment to the child and would not have undertaken this had their circumstances been different.


Why are there so few volunteers, if any, from women of means? Could it be that they understand the health risk that is entailed and can afford to resist being used as a means to an end? In a country that is reforming anti-rape and gender discrimination laws, it is shocking that the MoH has endorsed commercial surrogacy. More so, when there is a precedent where stringent laws were laid down to penalise exploitation and racketeering in the case of organ donors for renal transplants.

The dignity of the human person is deranged when a woman hires out a human body function for remuneration. The reproductive capacity is a vital and complex aspect of the human being meant for procreation. In the context of childbearing, the complex process of conception, pregnancy and childbirth is fraught with risks and complications and may well jeopardise the health of the mother.

When economic need causes a woman to put her health and life at risk by undertaking the childbearing and childbirth process for economic gain, her Right to Health and Life is severely compromised. Commercial surrogacy is in violation of the fundamental right to life that includes the right to live with human dignity.

Since India has joined the infamous list of countries that allow commercial surrogacy, it is in the spotlight as a preferred destination for this brand of out-sourcing. Specialised medical expertise, lower costs and availability of volunteers has attracted wealthy infertile couples as well as same-sex and transgender couples who seek to fulfil their aspirations by preying on these unfortunate women. This is certainly not the kind of outsourcing or medical tourism that we can be proud of.

Altruistic surrogacy may be allowed with guidelines and laws to ensure there is no coercion or financial benefit, just as it is with altruistic organ donation. At present, only altruistic surrogacy is allowed in most countries worldwide. It is never too late to speak up against this legislation in order to protect women and ensure that the MoH reviews and alters the guidelines in this area. As long as there is the possibility of exploitation of the poor, as with commercial surrogacy, this health service must be viewed as unethical and denounced by society and the medical fraternity.