Commercialization of Motherhood

With a range of alternative medical solutions to childlessness becoming available, surrogacy has emerged as one route for many couples. While some countries have banned the practice, commercial gestational surrogacy, in which a woman is paid to have a baby to whom she has no genetic link, has caught on in countries such as Mexico and India. After the first surrogate delivery in India in June 1994, India has steadily emerged as an international destination. Relatively inexpensive medical facilities, know-how in reproductive technology, and the availability of women, largely from poor socio-economic situations and who are willing to take up the task, have aided the growth. Today there are thousands of clinics in India that offer such services. From what was generally confined to close relatives or friends in altruistic mode, the network has become extended, with payment of money to surrogate mothers becoming the norm. Services are even being advertised. Such commercialization of motherhood has raised ethical, philosophical, and social questions and raised fears of the exploitation of women as baby-producers, and the possibility of selective breeding. In several instances, complications have arisen regarding the interests and rights of the surrogate mother, child, and intending parents. Yet, there are no clear legal provisions in place yet. The Indian Council of Medical Research in 2005 issued guidelines for the accreditation, supervision and regulation of surrogacy clinics, but those remain on paper. An expert committee drafted the Assisted Reproductive Technologies (Regulation) Bill, 2010.

The Union government is now set to table in Parliament the Assisted Reproductive Technologies (Regulation) Bill 2013. Letting single parents and foreign nationals to have children through surrogates in India is one issue in focus. The question relating to the citizenship of children born through an Indian surrogate and claimed by a foreign couple is one outstanding issue. Unscrupulous or mismanaged agencies could wreak havoc with lives. Many surrogacy agencies claim they are offering a legitimate service but in truth they operate in a grey area. The absence of appropriate legal provisions to ensure that surrogate mothers, who often enter into loosely drafted agreements with commissioning parents, do not become vulnerable is a serious issue. Right now, the surrogate mother could find herself with a child she did not plan for, should the clients change their mind. On the other hand, the big worry of the intending parents would be that the baby may not be handed over to them. A comprehensive regulatory framework and binding legal provisions could bring order to the field, but the larger moral question whether human reproduction should be commercialized would still remain.

Note: This article is contributed by our facebook group (Papertyari) member Kaushal Kishore Sharma.