NEW DELHI: The five-year waiting period for couples to avail surrogacy is not only a breach of reproductive rights but also impairs chances of wannabe parents who marry late and want to go for assisted techniques, a parliamentary committee has said.
The panel, which examined the Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, termed the five-year waiting period as "arbitrary, discriminatory and without any definable logic" and recommended that the period be reduced to one year.
It said that in the present context of late marriages (late 30s and 40s) the requirement of five-year wait would adversely affect the quality of gametes and thus impair chances of couples attaining parenthood through surrogacy.
Also, in circumstances where the need for surrogacy is absolute due to medical reasons like absence of uterus, destruction of uterus because of cancers, fibroids among others, even the prescribed one year period should be waived, the committee said in its report.
"Besides, this time bar of five years plausibly violates the right to reproductive autonomy, and an individual's right to exercise his choice," the committee said.
It also suggested that the definition of infertility be made commensurate with the one given by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The surrogacy bill was passed in the monsoon session of Parliament last year and was referred to a parliamentary standing committee.
The WHO terms infertility as "a disease of the reproductive system defined by the failure to achieve a clinical pregnancy after 12 months or more of regular unprotected sexual intercourse".
Though the definition of infertility is limited to failure to conceive only, there are other medical conditions for which surrogacy is availed.
For example, TB destroys thousands of uterus irreversibly. A large number of girls are born without a uterus or a very underdeveloped uterus. A large number of women have repeated miscarriages. There are many women who have their uterus removed because of cancer or because of many tumours.
"The fundamental right to reproduce to have a child is a part of a person's personal domain and fixing a period of five years will only cause breach of his/her reproductive rights and delayed or deferred parenthood," the committee said.
In India, infertility is considered a social stigma and infertile couples go through a lot of agony and trauma. Since, conception has many interplay functions, a five-year time bar would add to the misery of already distressed couples.
The committee strongly recommended that the Assisted Reproduction Technologies (ART) Bill, 2008 should be brought forth first before bringing in the surrogacy bill as surrogacy procedures cannot be conducted without assisted reproduction techniques and there is urgent need to regulate the ART clinics across the country.
"...mere enactment of the Surrogacy Bill would not serve the purpose of the controlling commercialisation of the surrogacy facilities across the country in the absence of regulation of ART and banks where surrogacy is being conducted as ART Clinics and surrogacy clinics are not separate," the committee said.
It observed that the ART Bill had been drafted in 2008 and revised in 2010 and 2014. Since then, it has been lying with the government.
On a specific query about the number of IVF/ART clinics in the country, the Department of Health Research apprised the committee that 1,035 clinics are registered with ICMR.
However, the actual number of such clinics is likely to be more.
According to unconfirmed reports, the number of surrogacy births in the country in the last three years is approximately 2,000.