What is Surrogacy
Surrogacy refers to a contract in which a woman carries a pregnancy “for” another couple. Number of infertile couples from all over the World approach India where commercial surrogacy is legal. Although this arrangement appears to be beneficial for all parties concerned, there are certain delicate issues which need to be addressed through carefully framed laws in order to protect the rights of the surrogate mother and the intended parents.
The ever-rising prevalence of infertility world over has led to advancement of assisted reproductive techniques (ART). Herein, surrogacy comes as an alternative when the infertile woman or couple is not able to reproduce. Surrogacy is an arrangement where a surrogate mother bears and delivers a child for another couple or person. In gestational surrogacy, an embryo, which is fertilized by in vitro fertilization, is implanted into the uterus of the surrogate mother who carries and delivers the baby. In traditional surrogacy, the surrogate mother is impregnated with the sperms of the intended father artificially, thus making her both genetic and gestational mother. Surrogacy may be commercial or altruistic, depending upon whether the surrogate receives financial reward for her pregnancy.
Commercial surrogacy is legal in India, Ukraine, and California while it is illegal in England, many states of United States, and in Australia, which recognize only altruistic surrogacy. In contrast, countries like Germany, Sweden, Norway, and Italy do not recognize any surrogacy agreements. India has become a favourite destination of fertility tourism. Each year, couples from abroad are attracted to India by so-called surrogacy agencies because cost of the whole procedure in India is as less as one third of what it is in United States and United Kingdom (10-20 lakhs).
Is Surrogacy Profitable for All
At a glance, surrogacy seems like an attractive alternative as a poor surrogate mother gets very much needed money, an infertile couple gets their long-desired biologically related baby and the country earns foreign currency, but the real picture reveals the bitter truth. Due to lack of proper legislation, both surrogate mothers and intended parents are somehow exploited and the profit is earned by middlemen and commercial agencies. There is no transparency in the whole system, and the chance of getting involved in legal problems is there due to unpredictable regulations governing surrogacy in India.
Although in 2005, ICMR issued guidelines for accreditation, supervision, and regulation of ART clinics in India, these guidelines are repeatedly violated. Frustration of cross border childless couples is easily understandable who not only have to cope up with language barrier, but sometimes have to fight a long legal battle to get their child. Even if everything goes well, they have to stay in India for 2-3 months for completion of formalities after the birth of baby. The cross border surrogacy leads to problems in citizenship, nationality, motherhood, parentage, and rights of a child. There are occasions where children are denied nationality of the country of intended parents and this results in either a long legal battle like in case of the German couple with twin surrogate children or the Israeli gay couple who had to undergo DNA testing to establish parentage or have a bleak future in orphanage for the child. There are incidences where the child given to couple after surrogacy is not genetically related to them and in turn, is disowned by the intended parent and has to spend his life in an orphanage.
If we look upon the problem of surrogate mothers, things are even worse and unethical. The poor, illiterate women of rural background are often persuaded in such deals by their spouse or middlemen for earning easy money. These women have no right on decision regarding their own body and life. In India, there is no provision of psychological screening or legal counseling, which is mandatory in USA. After recruitment by commercial agencies, these women are shifted into hostels for the whole duration of pregnancy on the pretext of taking antenatal care. The real motive is to guard them and to avoid any social stigma of being outcast by their community. These women spend the whole tenure of pregnancy worrying about their household and children. They are allowed to go out only for antenatal visits and are allowed to meet their family only on Sundays. The worst part is that in case of unfavorable outcome of pregnancy, they are unlikely to be paid, and there is no provision of insurance or post-pregnancy medical and psychiatric support for them. Rich career women who do not want to take the trouble of carrying their own pregnancy are resorting to hiring surrogate mothers. There are a number of moral and ethical issues regarding surrogacy, which has become more of a commercial racket, and there is an urgent need for framing and implementation of laws for the parents and the surrogate mother.
Two Types of Surrogacy
A traditional surrogate is a woman who donates her own egg and then carries the pregnancy. The surrogate’s egg is fertilized through artificial insemination with the sperm of the father or a sperm donor. Traditional surrogates are genetically related to the baby because their own eggs are donated.
A gestational surrogate is not biologically related to the child she carries. Gestational carriers become pregnant through the process of in-vitro fertilization, where an embryo created from the gametes (sex cells) of the intended parents are implanted in the uterus for the gestational period of 40 weeks.
In the approach of altruistic surrogacy (where no payment for a baby is made; only those to cover pregnancy costs), it is evident that willing surrogates would be acting in the Post-Conventional Level, at Stage Six. An altruistic surrogate performs the miraculous task of carrying a baby, then delivering and handing it over to the intended parents. To accomplish such a difficult venture requires compassion, a sense of self-worth and self-sacrifice. This is evident in the case of parents Luke and Amanda, whose surrogate mother Lisa displayed an awe-inspiring act of kindness through carrying their baby. This act illustrates Lisa’s characteristics of Stage 6 – despite the controversy the pregnancy may have caused, she was able to act upon her own morals to surrender a baby to deserving parents.
It seems ironical that people are engaging in the practice of surrogacy when nearly 12 million Indian children are orphans. Adoption of a child in India is a complicated and a lengthy procedure for those childless couples who want to give a home to these children. Even 60 years of Independence have not given a comprehensive adoption law applicable to all its citizens, irrespective of the religion or the country they live in as Non-Resident Indians (NRIs), Persons of Indian Origin (PIOs) or Overseas Citizens of India (OCIs). As a result, they resort to the options of IVF or surrogacy. The Guardian and Wards Act, 1890 permits Guardianship and not adoption. The Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956 does not permit non-Hindus to adopt a Hindu child, and requirements of immigration after adoption have further hurdles.
There is a strong need to modify and make the adoption procedure simple for all. This will bring down the rates of surrogacy. Altruistic and not commercial surrogacy should be promoted. Laws should be framed and implemented to cover the grey areas and to protect the rights of women and children.