The Cabinet on Wednesday cleared the new draft Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2016, that bans commercial surrogacy but allows altruistic surrogacy, where women can legally carry someone else’s child if no money (other than medical cost and insurance), favour or coercion is involved. Under the proposed law, only infertile Indian couples who have been married for at least five years can opt for surrogacy, while those who already have a child cannot do so. The Bill also bans a woman from being a surrogate for more than once in her lifetime and punishes surrogate parents with fines and imprisonment up to 10 years for abandoning their baby, as it happened in 2014, when an Australian couple who had surrogate twins left their baby son behind in Delhi because they just wanted a daughter. The same year, another Australian couple left behind their baby son, Gammy because he had Down Syndrome and took his healthy twin sister home, which led Thailand to ban commercial surrogacy last summer.
There are more that 50 million infertile couples in the world and their desperation for a biological child has turned commercial surrogacy into a booming business. Thousands of infertile couples rent wombs from poor women for nine months so they can take a baby back home. Celebrities renting wombs in India and abroad to add to their families has further fuelled the trend that has led their fans to turn to cheaper services provided by people who bend laws and cut corners to bring down cost at the expense of the surrogate mother’s health. Commercial surrogacy is banned in most developed countries, including Australia, UK, Canada, France, Germany, Sweden, New Zealand, Japan and Thailand, among others, leading people unwilling or unable to have children to go to countries such as India, Russia, Mexico and Ukraine, where commercial surrogacy is still legal.
In India, fertility clinics that offer surrogacy services have been regulated by the Indian Council of Medical Research’s national guidelines 2005 (for accreditation, supervision and regulation of ART clinics) that are not legally binding, which allows clinics to choose clients willing to pay to rent a womb. The new regulation will bring in transparency and make it easier to audit centres that do not follow best practices and prosecute parents who break the law. The fact that India has decided to legislate surrogacy separately from the proposed Assisted Reproductive Technologies (Regulation) Bill 2014, of which it was a part till earlier this year, is a sign that the Centre wants the exploitation of poor women to stop while giving infertile couples in India a chance to have their own baby.