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Death to the life giver?
The unregulated surrogacy industry is leading to the exploitation of several poor women

Sample this: An industry worth $500 million in 2002 stands as a $2.3 billion industry in 2012. An industry serving its clients with only 350 odd centres in 2002 has grown and crossed the mark of 1000 plus centres. And in spite of this impressive trend, this particular industry still remains highly unorganised and unregulated, and its growth has actually led us towards serious social issues. Welcome to the surrogacy industry of India!

Surrogacy generally refers to the carrying and delivering of another couple’s child by a woman. It’s a solution for couples where the female partner is not able to carry the child for whatever reason. India has become one of the most preferred fertility tourism destinations across the globe, and has become a ‘baby factory’ of sorts with respect to IVF and surrogate births due to long waiting times in other developed nations owing to various reasons, including shortage of eggs and sperm, lack of donor anonymity, overregulation, high costs and poor experiences of treatment.

Surrogacy hasn’t enjoyed legal sanction in a number of countries. Several developed countries such as Japan, France, Italy and UK have even banned or restricted, in one form or the other, commercial surrogacy, where the carrying woman gets paid for being the surrogate mother. Surrogacy is illegal in several states of America too. The legal issues coupled with the high prices of commercial surrogacy have made it quite expensive (with rates as high as $30,000) around the world, while Indian clinics, which are often running without government regulation (which helps them to also avoid heavy taxation) offer their services for one tenth of the costs internationally.

A decade back, the Indian government’s earnest efforts to promote medical tourism provided an unprecedented boost to surrogacy. Ironically, India made commercial surrogacy legal back then, but there are no laws yet that protect the rights of surrogate mothers. The recent death of surrogate Premila Vaghela, who was eight months pregnant, has brought to light the paucities in the guidelines governing the industry in India.

Not surprisingly, the growth has also led to exploitation of many poor women who were willing to lend their wombs to feed their families. The Indian Council for Medical research (ICMR) has tried to regulate commercial surrogacy since 2005, but guidelines issued by ICMR are not legally binding and are ambiguous on various issues like the surrogate’s rights, issues of informed consent and adoption requirements. The Assisted Reproductive Technologies Regulation Bill 2010, which is an updated and improved version of the ICMR guidelines, is still pending with the government and has not yet been even presented to the Parliament.

Although several doctors and clinics have claimed that they strictly follow the guidelines provided by ICMR and properly compensate surrogate mothers, the reality is starkly different. In some studies, it has been shown that there have been cases of even minor girls taking up this option due to the lure of quick money!

India is already notorious for high maternal death rates. A survey conducted by Center for Health Education, Training & Nutrition Awareness (CHETNA) revealed that one childbearing mother dies every eight minutes in India on an average. With the increasing prevalence of surrogacy, there is no gainsaying the fact that the government should immediately step into this industry to ensure that malpractices and intransigent situations for the surrogate mothers are avoided completely.

Not only should there be a setting up of a government surrogacy control centre – in lines with the National Aids Control Organization – the government should immediately structured implement regulations to protect surrogate mothers.

By:- Amir Hossain

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