Exploitation of surrogates by infertile couples, and vice versa, has been a serious concern ever since in-vitro fertilization (IVF) started in India. “But this will put an end to it. Infertile couples don’t have to go hunting for surrogate mothers. The bank will help them get one. As a result, the couple will have all information about her background and medical history before hiring her womb,” said Dr R S Sharma, deputy director general of Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), who has been involved in the process of drafting the Bill.
These banks – both private and government – will be accredited by state boards. The board will also have a registration authority which will maintain a list of all IVF centres and monitor their functioning. “So far we didn’t have any law regarding surrogacy. This is a step towards legalizing surrogacy and fixing responsibilities of the parties involved in the process,” said Dr Sharma.
These ART banks will be independent of IVF clinics. Oocyte (unfertilized egg) and semen preservation will be their main focus. “In the past few years, IVF clinics have mushroomed in the country. There is no check on their practices. There is no quality check on the semen and oocytes preserved by them and offered to infertile couples. These banks will have a proper system, where every minor detail about gametes and surrogates will be documented,” said a senior doctor at AIIMS who too is involved in the drafting of the bill.
Experts say that once a bank is in place, it will maintain a database of surrogate mothers. A woman is allowed five live births, including her own children. “It has been seen that poor women sell their womb several times for money. This has a damaging effect on their body. The new bill clearly states that a woman can’t have more than five live births and donate oocytes more than six times in her life,” said Dr Sharma.
Apart from bearing all the expenses of the surrogate during the gestation period, the couple can also give monetary compensation to her. The terms of this agreement will be left to the couple and the surrogate.
The bill proposes stringent rules for foreigners looking for surrogate mothers. It will be mandatory for foreign couples to submit two certificates – one on their country’s policy on surrogacy and the other stating that the child born to the surrogate mother will get their country’s citizenship. “They also have to nominate a local guardian, who will take care of the surrogate during the gestation period,” said Dr Sharma.
ART experts are now eagerly waiting for the Bill to be presented in the next Parliament session and are hopeful that once passed, it will regularize the IVF industry in the country.