New Delhi: A parliamentary select committee Wednesday recommended that ‘single Indian woman’ — either divorcee or widow — in the 35- to 45-year age group and Persons of Indian Origin (PIOs) may be allowed to avail surrogacy.
“There are conditions under which a single person genuinely needs to avail surrogacy as an option to have a child. One such situation is a young aged widow, who is otherwise capable but cannot carry a child because of fear of social stigma attached to pregnancy of widows in our society,” the Rajya Sabha select committee that examined the Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2019, said in its report submitted in the Upper House Wednesday.
The Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2019, which was cleared by the Lok Sabha on 5 August but is pending in the Rajya Sabha, does not allow single women or PIOs to avail surrogacy.
The committee also recommended that surrogate mothers should not be restricted to “close relatives” alone and instead, any willing woman should be allowed to be a surrogate.
Restricting the surrogate mother to a “close relative” potentially affects the availability of surrogate mothers, the committee has said. “A willing woman shall act as a surrogate mother and be permitted to undergo surrogacy procedures as per the provisions of this Act,” the report states.
IVF expert Dr Nayana Patel welcomed the recommendations of the select panel. “It’s an excellent move to allow single mothers to avail surrogacy. This will help a whole lot of people who genuinely wanted to opt for surrogacy but were deprived. I just hope the health ministry accepts the recommendations.”
Dr Patel added that, in her view, even single fathers should have been allowed.
Bill pending in Rajya Sabha
The bill was referred to a 23-member Rajya Sabha select committee headed by BJP leader Bhupendra Yadav in November 2019 after it ran into opposition in the Upper House. Opposition members had demanded that the bill be referred to a select committee before being brought to the House for passage.
The health ministry will now go through the report to see which recommendations can be incorporated into the bill before it is introduced again in Parliament.
The Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2019, seeks to regulate surrogacy procedure and prevent the exploitation of poor vulnerable women. It also seeks to ensure the rights of the child born out of surrogacy and to facilitate only needy infertile couples and widowed and divorced women to have a child. The bill prohibits commercial surrogacy and allows only altruistic surrogacy.
Committee recommends deleting the definition of ‘infertility’
Regarding the eligibility criteria for availing surrogacy, the committee has recommended deletion of the current definition of “infertility” on the grounds that it is too long a period for a couple to wait for a child. In the bill, infertility is defined as the inability to conceive after five years of unprotected sexual intercourse.
The committee noted that there may be certain proven medical conditions like the absence of uterus by birth, non-functional uterus, removal of the uterus due to cancer, fibroids etc. or patients with a chronic medical condition where normal pregnancy is ruled out and it is medically proven beyond any doubt that surrogacy is the only option.
Besides, the committee has also said in its report that the requirement of obtaining a certificate of proven infertility is not at all justified in such cases. With the proposed deletion of the definition of ‘Infertility’, needy persons can seek to avail surrogacy any time on the basis of a certificate of medical indication requiring gestational surrogacy.
The committee has retained the original provision in the bill that no woman should act as a surrogate more than once in her lifetime.
Panel wants PIOs to go through surrogacy boards
For PIOs, the committee has proposed that a provision be included in the bill allowing them to avail surrogacy in the country after obtaining a certificate of recommendation from the surrogacy boards.
Noting that the procedure of surrogacy poses the risks of medical complications and health hazards post-partum (after delivery), and to secure the surrogate mother financially and medically, the committee has recommended that the insurance coverage of 16 months provisioned in the Bill should be increased to 36 months.
The committee has also recommended modification in the definition of altruistic surrogacy so as to cover “such other prescribed expenses” on nutritional food required, maternity-wear among others, vital for the well-being and upkeep of the surrogate mother.
In order to protect the interest of the child born through surrogacy, the committee has recommended that the order regarding parentage and custody of the child, to be issued by a magistrate, shall be the birth affidavit of the child.
As a general recommendation, the select committee has said that the Assisted Reproductive Technologies (Regulation) Bill, which is awaiting cabinet approval may be taken up before the Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill since the ART Bill primarily deals with technical, scientific and medical aspects which also apply to storage of embryo, gamete, oocyte etc. as contained in the surrogacy bill.