With the Union Cabinet giving its approval to the Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2016, the nation now knows the mind of the government. Given the broader ideological contours of the government, the bill is a mix of pragmatic and controversial aspects, both rooted in Indian conditions and conservative traditions. The bill, therefore, should be debated extensively as it would impact people’s deeply personal and intimate beliefs, values and life choices. Surrogacy involves complex ethical issues rooted in a nation’s socio-economic and cultural milieu.
There is merit in the government’s bid to regulate surrogacy, which most stakeholders would support and welcome. The debate therefore will be on the nitty-gritty. The bill is unequivocal about allowing ethical surrogacy for ‘needy infertile couples.’ Hitherto what has been in grey areas — for instance, the rights of surrogate mothers and children born out of surrogacy — are now being codified. The government wants to ban commercial surrogacy as it wants to end commercialisation of surrogacy and the exploitation of surrogate mothers and children. The Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) services, though a part of legitimate commercial healthcare industry, have become a multi-billion rupee industry and naturally, a breeding ground for unethical activities by unscrupulous players. There is a need for a regulatory framework. And, the rub lies in the attempt to restrict foreigners, non-resident Indians, single parents, live-in partners and same-sex couples from accessing ART services.
While the government justifies it on the grounds of culture and tradition, critics are quick to dub it regressive in an evolving, modern society. The government should be open to consultation with all the stakeholders — healthcare industry, medical and scientific community, academicians from law and ethics branches and representatives of sexual minorities — before taking the final call.