Indian “baby factories” have become a growing multibillion-dollar industry. Photo: Jonas Gratzer Surrogacy pioneer Dr Nayna Patel examines a surrogate mother at Kaival Hospital in Anand, India, in 2007. Photo: AP/File
Darren Pinks, wife Clair and then six-week-old Saffron, who was born to a surrogate mother in India in 2012. Photo: Jon Reid
Thai nannies holding nine suspected surrogate babies after a police raid at a residential apartment on the outskirts of Bangkok, Thailand, last year. Photo: EPA
Silvya Jacob gave birth to twins for an Indian couple as a surrogate mother in New Delhi in 2012. Photo: Graham Crouch
Aussies seeking babies turn to CambodiaBabies allowed to leave Nepal
New Delhi: Sitting in his room on the first floor of the packed Delhi IVF & Fertility Centre on Wednesday, Dr Anoop Gupta’s heart sank when he opened an official letter from the government. It was a circular telling him to stop forthwith any future surrogate pregnancies for foreign couples.
“It is such bad news. We have helped give happiness to so many foreign couples who leave the country with a baby. Now it’s all going to end,” he said.
India has decided, in a near-final draft bill to regulate the hitherto unregulated business of surrogacy, that foreign couples will not be allowed to hire a womb. Only Indian couples who live here or Indians based abroad but of Indian origin will be able to do so.
The Assisted Reproductive Technologies Regulation Bill has been in the pipeline for years but is now inching towards becoming law. It is expected to be introduced to Parliament in February.
A doctor who attended the ministerial debates on the rights of foreigners to hire a poor Indian woman’s womb but who is no longer involved said fierce debates took place.
The views of those who opposed foreigners coming for surrogacy hardened after the case of an Australian couple who left a baby born to a surrogate behind, taking the baby boy’s twin sister back to Australia in 2012, he said.
The NSW couple argued they already had a son, wanted a girl to “complete” their family and could not afford to raise the boy. The baby was given up for adoption. “That case loomed over the debate. People said it could not be allowed to happen again, a poor baby left in limbo for no fault of his own,” the doctor told Fairfax Media.
The Australian case initially prompted those drafting the bill to stipulate this year that foreign couples coming to India for a surrogate baby would have to pay a bond so that, if a similar situation arose, there would be enough money to raise any abandoned baby.
But the thinking of those drafting the bill has changed. The bill bans foreigners altogether. Dr Soumya Swaminathan, director general of the Indian Council for Medical Research who is part of the team drafting the bill, explained that, apart from exploitation, there were two other reasons for the ban.
“One is that, because many countries don’t recognise surrogacy, foreign couples, when they return, face legal hurdles in getting citizenship for the baby. The other is that if other countries don’t allow their women to become surrogates, then it is not fair that they expect to come to India and get Indian women to provide the service,” she said.
Dr Anita Nayar, a senior gynaecologist in New Delhi, said she is opposed to renting wombs because the logic entails that people could also sell their organs, such as a kidney.
“However, if renting wombs is permitted for Indians, then why ban foreigners? What is needed is a proper system, a national registry to eliminate the touts and agents who pocket a large chunk of the woman’s money,” she said.
Columnist Kishwar Desai, who has written a novel about surrogacy, found the ban on foreigners too stringent. “This very harsh law will just drive the practice underground. And it is still not clear whether the rights of the surrogate mothers will be protected strongly, even if the children are born to Indian parents. “
For Dr Nayna Patel, who pioneered surrogacy at her Akanksha Infertility Clinic in Anand, Gujarat, and helped turn India into the surrogacy capital of the world, the ban is both irrational and distressing.
“If there are loopholes or abuses in the system, then fix them. Find solutions for the problem. If you allow surrogacy in principle, then allow it for everyone,” she said.
Dr Patel disagrees with critics of surrogacy who say it exploits impoverished Indian women who are subjected to possibly dangerous medical procedures by unscrupulous doctors and middlemen simply because they are desperate for a lump sum.
“These women need cash to tide them over a crisis, to educate their children or build a home. This is a dignified way of getting that money. Now they will resort to more dangerous means,” she said.
For Australian couples who had been thinking of an Indian surrogate, the draft bill, if it becomes law, will probably not make much of a difference as India has been refusing medical visas for Australians for this purpose for about a year.
Radhika Thapar Bahl, an advocate at India’s Fertility Law Centre, said that the Ministry of External Affairs has been demanding that Australia should officially state on its government website that it will give citizenship to surrogate babies.
“Australia has said it can’t give a blanket and automatic assurance, that all it can do is say it will give citizenship if the various conditions are fulfilled. This issue has made India stop giving visas,” she said.
For a former surrogate mother at a New Delhi fertility clinic, the likely ban is bad news. She declined to be named.
“I build a two-bedroom house with the money I got from an English couple – my dream for my family. My sister also wants to do what I did but now she won’t be able to,” she said.
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