Why Is It Making Headlines?
Imagine having to volunteer to gestate for a close relative. What about having to do so with full knowledge that you will be in close proximity to the child born out of this arrangement? Do you expect to be in full control of your emotions?
While altruism is a defining characteristic of human beings, it is not possible to ask a woman to display her altruistic tendencies in the matter of motherhood. India recently made an effort to join the throngs of countries who favor altruistic surrogacy over the commercial arrangement, with the Lok Sabha approving the Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill on the 19th of December, 2018. It drew flak from the Opposition as well as several sections of the society that felt the bill was flawed in certain areas and could use more clarity while being more inclusive. Even more thoroughly emphasized was the fact that ‘altruistic surrogacy’ would never meet the needs of Indians.
Altruistic Surrogacy Versus Commercial Surrogacy
While surrogacy may be a taboo topic in India, people do opt for it but, like with other issues regarding reproductive health, do not like to discuss it. Nevertheless, there is no denying that it has been around for a while.
Until a few decades back, there have been reports of ‘traditional surrogacy’ where the surrogate provides the egg and is thus the actual biological mother of the child. Gestational surrogacy emerged much later, where the surrogate is in no way biologically related to the child she is carrying, for both the sperm and egg are derived from the intended parents. Today there are two more sub-types which refer to the financial aspect of surrogacy- commercial surrogacy and altruistic surrogacy.
Commercial surrogacy, which is just known as surrogacy in the US, is not permitted in several other countries. It refers to a surrogacy arrangement where the surrogate is compensated beyond the payment of medical expenses; she is paid to act as a surrogate.
Altruistic surrogacy, on the other hand, refers to an arrangement where the surrogate is a ‘close relative’ who does not receive any monetary payment apart from medical expenses. The one main shortcoming of this arrangement that undermines its whole purpose is that there may be payments under the table. These are not officially recorded, unlike commercial surrogacy, and often lead to legal issues later on.
Most countries like France and Germany do not allow any form of surrogacy, and countries like UK and Belgium permit only altruistic surrogacy, causing many to flock to India until recently. India legalized commercial surrogacy way back in 2002. This created an industry worth 2 billion with as much as 25000 children born through it every year with the help of surrogates available at affordable rates.
However, the government felt that this industry was exploitative, especially towards the poorer people who were ready to do anything for money, causing it to take certain measures.
Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill
The Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill was first introduced in 2016 before eventually being approved by the Lok Sabha in 2018. It bans the practice of commercial surrogacy, fining up to ten lakh for its violation. While the bill was passed with a good majority and the party in power terming it as ‘historic legislation’, it was criticized by the Opposition- Congress and TDP for being poorly defined and by the AIADMK for postponing the discussion on the Cauvery issue.
They urged to expand the bill’s scope, for it did not include several sections of the society like single people and the LGBTQ community.
The BJD party also highlighted the fact that ‘close relative’ was not defined properly while the majority stressed that the bill was clear in all aspects.
Altruistic Surrogacy Is Not Yet Ideal
I believe that India is not yet ready to face the onslaught of altruistic surrogacy.
Even though several demand for amendments to the bill, I do not see the very concept of altruistic surrogacy as viable in a country like India. India is a nation that strongly stresses on family and values. It emphasizes on strong and close family relations, and most would find it awkward to approach a ‘close relative’ to be their surrogate. Conservative families, in particular, would view it as a disgrace. And supposing that families do get over their conservativeness and agree for a close relative to be a surrogate, there is a high possibility that a poorer relation would be forced to act as one. This could most certainly cause bitterness and regret. In other cases, where both sides of the party are willing, the surrogate might expect extra compensation- all under the table of course, and the ‘biological’ parents would be forced to comply to prevent any sort of feud.
Another reason why altruistic surrogacy might be a problem is the toll it would take on mental health. The child at all times would be in close proximity to both the biological mother and the surrogate mother. The biological parents might be plagued with a feeling of insecurity, the surrogate by a feeling of helplessness, and the child by confusion. Such a situation can also create a sort of breakdown in the traditional family system while affecting emotional well-being.
Further, feminists all over the country protested to the arrangement because it requires women to volunteer as a surrogate since childbearing is considered such a ‘noble cause’.
Commercial surrogacy is a much better option over altruistic surrogacy any day.
It is a much fairer process, as the surrogate is compensated to the fullest and all the procedures are officially documented. Moreover, it also caters to the emotional well-being of all the individuals involved in the process, as the intended parents need not necessarily chose a surrogate from within the family. However, despite all this, the chances of returning back to this arrangement is pretty slim. The only good that will come out of the Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill is that it might increase adoption rates. Given the fact that childless couples and single individuals would be hesitant to approach and request a relative to be a surrogate, naturally adoption rates would increase. More and more individuals would prefer to adopt a child rather having a close relative as a surrogate. This would solve the problem of increasing number of orphans in India.
However, apart from this one good, there isn’t much to praise about the Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill.
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