By Robin Gomes
A bill banning commercial surrogacy was introduced in the upper house of Indian parliament on Monday after gaining the approval of the lower house.
The Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2019 allows “ethical altruistic surrogacy” to the intending infertile Indian married couple, between the age of 23 and 50 years for the female and 26 and 55 years for the male.
The Bill says the surrogate mother must be a relative of the couple seeking surrogacy who offers her womb for altruistic motives without any compensation except for medical expenses and her insurance coverage.
Foreigners, Non-Resident Indians (NRI), Person of Indian Origin (PIO) and Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) cannot avail of the provision. Neither can singles, homosexuals, live-in couples, and married couples who already have children.
Also, a woman can be a surrogate only once in her lifetime.
The bill was passed by the lower house in December 2018 but lapsed as it failed to get the approval of the upper house.
Safeguarding women, children?
The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, which framed the Bill, says that the new law will not only protect women from abuse but will also ensure legal rights and protection of children of surrogacy.
The child, thus born, will be deemed to be the legal offspring of the intended couple.
“A rough estimate says there are about 2,000-3000 surrogacy clinics running illegally in the country and a few thousand foreign couples resort to surrogacy practice within India and the whole issue is thoroughly unregulated,” Health Minister Dr. Harsh Vardhan said, emphasizing the need to keep a check on surrogacy to prevent exploitation of women.
Surrogacy morally unacceptable
Despite all these claims by the government, any form of surrogacy is morally unacceptable says Dr. Pascoal Carvalho of Mumbai.
The Catholic microbiologist and immunologist, who does scientific research especially in tissue culture, is a member of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life as well as of the Human Life Committee of Bombay Archdiocese.
Explaining the Catholic teaching regarding the Indian surrogacy bill, Carvalho said that any surrogacy is a “moral offence”. This is because an unethical technique, namely in vitro fertilization (IVF), is used to fertilize an embryo that is implanted into another woman’s womb, which is also wrong. Hence, the creation of a child through “unnatural means of conception” is “morally unacceptable” to the Catholic Church.
“The Church,” Carvalho said, “cannot condone any act of surrogacy”, as the procedure involves the means and techniques that are morally illicit.
Dignity of women
Secondly, the scientist said, people in general who think that surrogate mothers are doing good to families, are mistaken. These women could be exposed to “great danger”, especially in joint or extended families, such as in India, where relatives, children and grandparents live together.
In such a situation, where males dominate, Carvalho observed, a woman could be pressurized into surrogacy in favour of another infertile woman in the family.
Moreover, the dignity of women is at stake because surrogacy regards women as “commodities” and instruments, like “renting a machine”, to produce babies.
So in every respect, surrogacy is unacceptable and “totally a moral offence” not just against women but also against humanity. “I think all people of sane views”, and not just the Catholic Church, would have the same idea.
People at large, Crvalho said, feel the government is doing something good but they don’t know the moral implications of the technology involved.