The amendments suggested to the Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill make it a much better legislation than earlier, but there are still a few concerns that must be addressed, says Dr Nayana Patel, Medical Director of Akanksha Hospital and Research Institute, Anand, Gujarat, who is considered a pioneer in India in IVF and surrogacy. In a conversation with DH’s Satish Jha, Dr Patel says that science has advanced and allows one or the other route – IVF, surrogacy, freezing of embryos – to parenthood for those who need such interventions and that regulatory law must keep pace.
How do you read the Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill?
The amendments that have been made (through the parliamentary and select committee processes) are pretty good because they allow any willing woman, and not necessarily only a relative, to be a surrogate. And surrogates can be compensated (for the service they provide). The other thing is that there is no need to bring along an ‘infertility’ certificate and to declare everywhere that 'I am infertile and need a surrogate.’ The committee has recommended waiving off that certificate requirement which was, I think, very traumatic to most women who are looking for a surrogate. The 'five years' waiting period clause has also been removed because these days, people marry late and then to have to wait for five years to have a child through a surrogate is not good for the infertile couple.
What clauses still need to be reconsidered?
A couple can opt for one child through surrogacy only if their first child is handicapped or mentally or physically challenged. I do not like this discrimination because (if this becomes law) a woman who doesn't have a uterus but still wants two children cannot do so. You are allowed to adopt three children, so why not the same through surrogacy.
A single woman opts for surrogacy despite the fact that she can conceive, and this is mainly due to the stigma attached. However, under the clause in the draft law, only a widow or a divorcee comes under the 'single' category.
Single women and men, who do not opt for marriage, are barred. In all these areas, if they (the government) had just scrutinized the issues and put in some strict criteria for surrogacy (rather than barring them completely), then such men and women would benefit. Personally, I think, the single woman clause is good, but it needs to be revisited.
Besides, embryo-freezing should not be kept out of the surrogacy law ambit. Storing of embryo should be allowed.
The penalties proposed for doctors, couples, etc., should also be looked into.
You are considered a pioneer in IVF and surrogacy. Did the Select Committee meet you and take your suggestions?
The members of the Select Committee visited us in Anand, Gujarat, and they visited a couple of other places in Hyderabad and Mumbai. They made field visits and heard first-hand some practical ideas. They met couples and surrogates and then came up with these amendments. We had pointed out to them several impractical provisions in the draft law which, thankfully, have been taken care of in the amendments suggested. I hope that these amendments become the law.
Do you think the concerns about the exploitation of surrogates in the surrogacy industry have been addressed?
I fail to understand this notion that surrogacy is an industry. Yes, there is give and take of money and there are some procedures or arrangements. But a woman is willingly doing (a service) and she has to be compensated accordingly with the best food, best care and insurance. This is a health service because science has advanced and has opened up this possibility of ‘compensatory surrogacy.’ It is like organ donation.
We can say that if you keep all arrangements transparent, follow procedure at every stage and notify the authorities, it will be good for everyone involved, including doctors and surrogates. This will not only prevent exploitation but also people indulging in illegal activity.