Standing committee suggests reforms in surrogacy bill

Surrogacy Bill 2016 was introduced in Lok Sabha

The Parliamentary Standing Committee has further recommended that couples, including the ones in a live-in relationship, should have the freedom to choose their surrogates from both within and outside the family.

The committee, which the Rajya Sabha directed in January to prepare a report on the Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, tabled its findings on Thursday.

The committee, led by Samajwadi Party MP Ram Gopal Yadav, has nearly overturned the bill entirely with its observations and recommendations on conditions like the ban on commercial surrogacy and limits on those eligible for surrogates. Since surrogacy procedures require assisted reproduction techniques, it was important to first specify the legal framework for those before regulating surrogacy. The committee, which has raised several issues with the bill, has "strongly" recommended that the Assisted Reproduction Technologies (ART) Bill be brought forth before it.

The ART Bill was first drafted in 2008.

The one suggestion from the original Bill that the committee was in complete agreement with was that foreigners should not be allowed to commission Indian women as surrogates.

The report has found fault with the bill's decision to regulate surrogacy by restricting it to altruism within the family of the couple exploring the option.

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For many years now, India has been a hot destination for foreigners looking for low-priced surrogate mothers, sparking concerns about the exploitation of impoverished Indian women by unscrupulous doctors and middle-men. However, who qualifies as a close relative was not defined.

The committee has also recommended that live in couples, widows, and divorced women should be allowed to be included in criteria of those persons who can avail of surrogate services.

It noted that economic opportunities available to surrogate mothers through commercial surrogacy should not be looked down upon or dismissed in a paternalistic manner. It was of the opinion that expecting women to provide reproductive labour for free was "grossly unfair" and exploitative.

"Provision of breast milk should be allowed by way of Human Milk Bank services only and not by direct breastfeeding by surrogate mother". This was indicative of the fact that the bill was not in consonance with the present day modern social milieu and was "too narrow" in its understanding. If all these categories are to be banned then why have surrogacy at all.

Making those who wish to opt for a surrogate wait for at least five years plausibly violated the right to reproductive autonomy and an individual's right to exercise choice, the committee added.

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