Surrogacy is an agreement whereby a woman rent her womb to another parent, for carrying out their biological child in her uterus. It is astonishing to think how surrogate produced children could be manufactured as designer babies. Wealthy parents can select a perfect fusion of sperm from a male having a good I.Q., who has graduated from prestigious college with the egg of an athletic female who exhibits beauty and brains too. Leave the couple aside; it is a medium in which even singles can attempt to create their dream child.
But the proposed Bill regarding surrogacy now bars married couples who have biological or adopted children, single people, live-in partners, and homosexuals from opting for surrogacy. It only allows ‘altruistic surrogacy’ for childless couples who have been married for at least five years. The surrogate mother should be a ‘close relative’ of the couple, should be married and have borne a child of her own. Also, a woman can be a surrogate only once in her lifetime. Foreigners and NRIs have also been barred from opting for surrogacy.
The buzz which was created with the introduction of surrogacy (regulation) bill 2016, to ban commercial surrogacy persuaded Amla to visit a surrogate residency. Everything there seemed to be unusually quiet, apart from that television that echoed from far making everyone with grave faces silently hook on the screen viewing some debate about surrogacy.
Amla spotted two women with bulged stomach lounging on the cot shedding tears.
“Is everything ok?” She gently asked one of them.
“They are calling us machine; can you call a child-bearing woman a machine? Do they even realise how deeply we are involved in this. If this is really as bad as they have made, would so many of us were to be found here?” She blasted.
“The option of carrying a child inside me to give joy to another woman and improve my own financial situation has empowered me, and they are saying it is for safeguarding us. I don’t understand this.” Her companion added as Amla stepped forward to sit by her side.
The cause of anger and grief of the women in the premises was very much visible. From that middle-aged woman expecting a baby for a US-based NRI family, to that another short heighted one ready to deliver twins for a couple, to that smart flower print clad woman whose pregnancy was confirmed two days earlier, and extending to all those having bulged or about to bulge bellies the proposed new law on surrogacy, has pushed everyone into a legal grey zone.
The television programme ended, just to let the gibbering of ladies start there. All of them seemed to share the same view. Some said altruistic surrogacy will not work in India, where the surrogates turn to this option to support their families. The others murmured that while money is the main reason behind the decision to become surrogates, yet they feel insulted by the use of the word “commercial.”
Ragini who was becoming surrogate for the second time raged, “People who do not know what surrogacy is demean it and want to ban one of the noblest and deepest of human relations. My Australian friend continues to be in touch with me. It is a bond I would have never developed had it not been for surrogacy. Foreign couples are just seeking a family and they take care of their surrogates throughout their life because of the bond, not as a commercial deal.”
“The decision-makers have treated surrogacy as organ transplant, restricting it to close relatives. However, what will a woman do if she does not find a close woman relative willing to be her surrogate? There needs to be an understanding of the issue. Otherwise the bill will be cruel to a woman who is yearning for a child,” another woman vocalised.
Amla was having her own conception based on ethical and legal issues of surrogacy, from whatever she has read on papers. She was aware of that case where a surrogate was pregnant for a Japanese couple, but by the time she delivered a child for them, the couple were separated and the baby was both parentless and stateless, caught between the legal systems of two countries. Till now, Amla had thought the bill to be perfectly right as it aimed at banning commercial surrogacy to protect women from exploitation and ensure the rights of the child born through surrogacy, but witnessing the concerned persons’ faces made her confused today.
Agreed, as the surrogacy industry is based on impoverishment of large section of society, particularly women, many malpractices, such as implantation of more than four embryos in the surrogate womb are made invasive. Surrogates are made to undergo caesarean so the time of birth suits the commissioning parents. Exploitation, commoditisation, coercion are obvious to enter when women are paid to be pregnant and deliver babies. The uneducated surrogates sign contracts agreeing that even if they are seriously injured during the later stages of pregnancy, or suffer any life-threatening illness, they will be sustained with life-support equipment to protect the foetus. And in tragic cases which did has happened in the country in the past, the hospital had quickly paid the money for a successful birth, so that the family would be unlikely to complain. In a country where thousands of women die every year in normal childbirths, who would complain about the death of a surrogate. It is indeed distressing that how easily the horror of all the wrongdoing is swept away by the money paid out to surrogates. But it couldn’t be denied that even if there are areas which could create uneasiness among the aware section, the industry amounts to create and share happiness for childless too, providing financial security to surrogates and their families, helping people reach their dreams. Indeed the surrogate hostel inmates had earned enough to build small homes for their families, and buy some security for their children schoolings.
As Amla prepared to leave from there, the earlier rationale appearing surrogacy bill now somewhat changed its nature for her as she witnessed those considerate faces there which screamed how bill will hit these people if passed. Might be they were the last generation of commercial surrogates present there. And they all have their dreams, aspirations with this industry. Instead of being traumatized, an overwhelming majority of surrogates experience empowerment by their surrogacy sentience. Amla now knowing all the pros and cons of surrogacy re-evaluated her earlier notion about it. Even if the Bill may have the right intentions to protect the surrogates, still it is too stringent in its scope. There should not be a single blanket rule to govern the ethical and legal aspect of surrogacy. Surrogacy needs a more humane approach and more individual attention case-by-case.