Surrogacy Regulation Bill: It's a shame and a sham that this crucial legislation is mired in delays

The Rajya Sabha Standing Committee tasked to study the contours of the controversial Surrogacy Regulation Bill, 2016, has again delayed the submission of its report.

The Surrogacy Bill was introduced in Lok Sabha on 21 November, 2016, and was referred to the department-related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health and Family Welfare, with public asked to send suggestions by the last date of 13 April, 2017. Thereafter, an extension was sought till 11 July, with the committee scheduled to deliver its report to Parliament this month for debate during the current monsoon session.

However, at the last minute, it asked for a further extension and a fresh date has been set — 11 September, 2017.

Surrogacy Regulation Bill: Its a shame and a sham that this crucial legislation is mired in delays

Representational image. Reuters

No explanation has been given for why this crucial piece of pending legislation — which prohibits commercial surrogacy to prevent exploitation of economically-backward women, but allows for altruistic surrogacy within parameters — has missed the Monsoon Session of Parliament. There is also lack of clarity on how many times committees can ask for such extensions, thereby not ruling out the possibility of the bill not being debated in the Winter Session of Parliament as well. This 10-member committee, in which the ruling BJP has only three members, is chaired by Ram Gopal Yadav of Samajwadi Party.

A source close to one of the members has indicated to Firstpost that the committee, "whenever it delivers the report", is likely to ask for this bill to be "amalgamated" into the Art (Assisted/Artificial Reproductive Technologies) Bill, slated to follow after the Surrogacy Regulation Bill is passed. This, in effect, would mean the killing of the existing bill.

Department-related standing committee reports are supposed to be treated as "considered advice" and can have "persuasive value" if the government of the day chooses to heed it. Such heeding can be in full or part, and the Cabinet is also under no obligation to heed it at all if it can put up an adequate defence in Parliament against a negative report.

The Surrogacy Regulation Bill was announced almost a year ago (in August 2016) by Union minister Sushma Swaraj, who headed the council of ministers on this bill. In May this year, the committee heard various stakeholders — including non-partisan private citizens and those financially affected by it, like doctors running fertility clinics who source commercial surrogates. Those invited as stakeholders are bound by committee rules to not speak of their interaction until the report is submitted. Accordingly, not only stakeholders but also members on the committee and officials from Dr JP Nadda's Health and Family Welfare Ministry declined comment.

Firstpost contacted human rights activist Pinki Virani who had congratulated the central government for its decision to stop commercial surrogacy and criticised them for what she saw as loopholes in the proposed law. The bestselling author — who, in her fifth book Politics Of The Womb: The Perils Of IVF, Surrogacy & Modified Babies graphically exposes the seedy underbelly of the repro tech industry — was among the stakeholders engaging with the committee in May. Asked if the bill should be subsumed in an Art Bill, Virani, who maintains that commercial surrogacy is the worst kind of patriarchy posing as pro-woman choice said, "It's a little late for that. The Art Bill draft floating around is not in the interest of the patients, mostly women. In the name of an innocent unborn, it is too skewed in favour of international big pharma which plays puppet-master of the flourishing industry, which makes women, and men, feel incomplete if they do not, or cannot, have children. A fresh Art Bill will have to be drafted and that will take a long time, as will its passing as law."

"Meanwhile, the government of India, and the states, awaiting a comprehensive surrogacy law, cannot afford to be sitting around while more surrogacy rackets come to light, like the recent one in Hyderabad's upmarket Banjara Hills, where multiples of pregnant women were being held. Since scant records were being maintained at these so-called surrogacy centres, we don't even know if some of the intending babies from those victims of human trafficking were actually meant to be sold for the internet-infant-porn market," she added.

Virani adds, "Actually, it works in the interest of Indians to understand the crucial difference, so it's quite alright that the Surrogacy Bill is passed into law. Surrogacy is about third-party reproduction, meaning using a third person as the birth-mother. Art is about self-reproduction: the man's sperm-genes and the woman's egg-genes with her own body hoping to carry — since IVF has a 75 percent failure rate — the lab-made embryo to term. Which means the intending baby would of course have a biological father but also what much of humanity understands, and has, as the biological mother, the genetic plus birth mother. If the Surrogacy Bill does not come up in the Winter Session, and all the loopholes in it are not plugged before its passing, it will be both a shame and a sham."

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Updated Date: Jul 22, 2017 16:47:56 IST

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