Better surrogacy laws needed, not bans: Doctors

A day after the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) sent a letter directing infertility specialists to not entertain foreigners seeking surrogacy services, the doctors said that better regulations—and not bans—are the solution.

Dr Nandita Palshetkar, secretary general of the Indian Society for Assisted Reproduction (ISAR), said surrogacy should at least be allowed for non-resident Indians and Persons of Indian Origin and Overseas Citizens of India. ISAR president Dr Hrishikesh Pai said denying overseas Indians would be contradictory to statements of inclusion made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

"Moreover, the criteria set up by the home ministry in 2013 for allowing surrogacy are working well. Why should we change them?" asked Dr Pai.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court asked the Union government to respond to a PIL seeking a ban on commercial surrogacy, alleging that lax laws had allowed rampant commercialization of motherhood, exploiting poor women to turn India into the world's surrogacy capital.

The PIL cited the in-vitro fertilization (IVF) clinic at Anand and said more and more foreigners were thronging the clinic to get a child through surrogacy at a cheap price. It said, "UN-backed study in 2012 estimated the surrogacy business in India to be more than 400 million pounds a year with over 3,000 fertility clinics."

However, doctors said that the government had for the last decade not accepted a bill drawn up for clinics offering artificial reproduction technology. Regulations have been woven into the bill and followed by most doctors, they said.

A doctor who didn't want to be named said that the government had cited exploitation of women who act as surrogates for the ban, but he had come across instances where the infertile couples were troubled by families of surrogate mothers.

Dr Kamini Rao, Bangalore-based former president of ISAR, has organized a meeting of government officials as well as ISAR members in Hyderabad on November 3. "We need to regulate surrogacy, but we cannot ban a technology," she said.

Doctors suggested that the government should follow the "cadaveric organ donation model" to ensure that surrogacy and surrogates aren't exploited. Consider Israel that was the first country in the world to implement state-controlled surrogacy in which each and every contract must be approved directly by the state.

"Why can't we have an authorization cell consisting of government officials who go through every surrogacy application before deciding whether the couple should be allowed to seek surrogacy in India," said Dr Palshetkar.

"Until uterine transplants become a reality, it's unfair to not allow surrogacy for women who cannot otherwise have children," she said.