Surrogate mothers: The directorate general of health services (DGHS) has proposed that the option of surrogacy should be available only to married, infertile couples of Indian origin.
The suggestions forwarded by DGHS Dr Jagdish Prasad to the department of health research rule out surrogacy options for foreigners, unless they are married to a person of Indian origin. The suggestions also say that a woman may become a surrogate mother only once in her lifetime.
The health ministry, which is engaged in a tussle with the Planning Commission on NGO consultations over a law to regulate the “infertility” industry, has circulated a cabinet note on the Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART) Bill. The DGHS is an arm of the ministry.
According to a recent survey on surrogacy done by a Delhi-based NGO, foreigners made up 40 per cent of the clientele, and were inevitably those who paid the most. It is estimated that approximately 2,000 babies are born every year in India through commercial surrogacy. According to CII figures, surrogacy is a $ 2.3 billion industry in the country.
According to the NGO’s survey, surrogate women were forced to live in hostels away from their families for a few lakhs, a sum that they forfeited in case of complications or a miscarriage.
There were allegedly cases where more than one woman were made pregnant with a couple’s children to increase the chances of success. After a certain cut-off period, all but one were forced into a miscarriage without telling them.
The DGHS suggestions, coming on top of the health ministry’s disagreements with the Plan panel on whether and to what extent NGOs should be consulted, have further dimmed the chances of a Bill that has been in the works for over five years, making it to the cabinet anytime soon.
Planning Commission member Syeda Hameed said, “Organisations like SAMA have worked extensively in the field and have domain expertise.
We have decided to make a small core group of the commission to see how we can use that field knowledge to make valuable additions to the Bill.”
Sources said the ministry has been less than forthcoming in accepting the panel’s insistence on wider stakeholder consultations.
DGHS Prasad has also suggested that the potential surrogate mother would have to be aged between 25 and 35 years, and may not have more than two children of her own. The original note made surrogacy services available to individuals, which by extrapolation meant gay/lesbian couples could opt for it, but Prasad has suggested a far more narrow band of eligibility in which only married couples qualify.
ICMR deputy director general Dr R S Sharma, who is dealing with the ART Bill, said he had not received Prasad’s suggestions. “He has spoken to me on the issue but his written suggestions will come to me through the department of health research,” Sharma said.
Prasad declined to elaborate on his suggestions but said they were important to regulate the industry. “There is a lot of corruption right now, from the way women are exploited to how the babies are treated by the foreigners who take them. There is a need to make a foolproof law,” he said.