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If you are a gay couple or a single man/woman looking for a surrogate then India's no longer the place for you. A new Home Ministry directive has sought to put in place stringent rules regarding medical visas given to foreigners. The diktat says that only a man-woman couple who have been married for over two years will be granted medical visas for surrogacy. Furthermore, foreign couples who want to adopt will have to furnish documents from their parent country's ministry or embassy to prove that they recognise surrogacy parenthood and the letter also needs to contain assurances that the child born to the Indian surrogate mother would be allowed to enter their country and enjoy the same liberties as a biological child.
This is particularly significant because of the different out-of-border surrogacy laws in different countries. Recently, a Norwegian woman who had twins borne by an Indian surrogate in 2009 was stranded in almost a two year battle as Norway refused to accept her as the biological mother of the child. However, all this comes even as the Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) Regulation Bill 2010 is cooling its heels in the parliament.
Why the homophobia?
Obviously, there's need for better regulations but why single out people based on their sexual orientation? Dr PM Bhargava, a scientist who helped draft the ICMR bill told TOI that this move was in guidance with the ICMR guideline which only recognised marriages between men and women.
In 2009, homosexuality was decriminalised in India by the Delhi High Court but the Supreme Court is yet to rule on the matter. The court had ruled that criminalising homosexuals was against our very constitution. 'It cannot be forgotten that discrimination is the antithesis of equality and that it is the recognition of equality which will foster dignity of the very individual,' the judges had said unanimously. Same-sex couples are being recognised throughout the world and India needs to follow the same. Also this move will even hit others like single people who want to have a child and even heterosexual couples who aren't married. Dr P Rama Devi of Rama's Institute of Fertility told TOI that reproductive tourism was a win-win situation for both. 'Why should we interfere in their culture? If their country is allowing such a lifestyle, why should we have an objection?'
Need for better rules and regulations?
The ART 2010 bill has been waiting in the parliament for a while. That there is a need for more stringent laws governing ART in India is undeniable. Bolstered by high demand, paying money fertility clinics have sprung up in every nook and cranny and a stringent bill on ART is the need of the hour. Many clinics in their zeal to provide children fail to properly explain the harmful side-effects of assisted reproduction. Often surrogates too are on the receiving end with middle-men siphoning off much of the money while surrogates put their lives at risk to conceive. Knee-jerk directives like these could actually prove detrimental in the long run and boost the country's illegal Rs 13,000 crore surrogacy industry.
There are thousands of unregulated fertility clinics in the country and they will find ways to get past this loophole. Sudha Prasad, IVF programme coordinator at the Maulana Azad Medical College (MAMC), estimates there is a new clinic comes up every 10 days. 'Earlier it was a high-end treatment, but now even couples from small towns are coming after taking loans. The reason is the awareness and demand for the treatment,' Prasad said. The ART bill, which was approved by the health ministry and the law ministry, is yet to be tabled in parliament. It presses for stronger monitoring and regulatory measures for the clinics. 'We have the regulatory guidelines by ICMR. But in the absence of law, they are toothless,' she concluded.
Also read: Sex Education: Need of the hour?
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