Surrogacy law: RS members want close-relative, 5-year marriage norms eased

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Cutting across party lines, Rajya Sabha members on Tuesday demanded relaxation of conditions in the surrogacy bill like close relative being a surrogate and five years of marriage for commissioning parents.

The Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill 2019, which seeks to ban commercial surrogacy, was passed by the Lok Sabha in the Monsoon Session and was moved for consideration and passage in the Rajya Sabha by Health Minister Harsh Vardhan earlier in the day.

During the debate on the bill, some of the members sought its review as over a dozen major recommendations by a standing committee were incorporated in the draft law.

Participating in the debate, BJP leader Suresh Prabhu made a case for sending the bill again to the standing committee.

"(Not having) Indian citizenship should not deprive, people of having surrogacy... because there could be cases where an Indian women or man married to a foreign citizen not residing in India," he said.

The bill provides that the commissioning parents or the couple must be Indian citizens.

Prabhu also asked why should surrogacy be restricted to one child as provided in the bill.

He pointed out the bill provides that the surrogate should be a close relative but there is no definition of that in the bill and it would unnecessarily create issues.

He also was not in favour of the condition that only couples with five or more years of marriage can opt for surrogacy saying if doctors can certify in few months of marriage then why should they wait for so long.

Ram Gopal Yadav (SP), who was chairman of the standing committee which gave its report on the bill in August, 2017, said, "The 13 major recommendations given by the standing committee were not accepted. However, the minor 13 would be incorporated while making rules on the bill."

He also opposed the conditions related to close relative and five years of marriage of commissioning parents and sought their removal from the draft law.

He said the committee had recommended that the couples married for a year should be allowed to go for surrogacy.

Yadav also said that the panel had recommended that NRI, OCI, PIO, divorcees and widows should be allowed to go for surrogacy but infertile OCI (overseas citizen of India and PIO (person of Indian origin) couples are not included.

He made a case that the surrogate should be given adequate compensation.

Yadav was also of the view that the close relative clause for choosing a surrogate can lead to property disputes later on and other related issues in a family.

Amar Patnaik (BJD) said that there is need to relook the bill as the major recommendation of the standing committee were not accepted.

However, he supported the bill saying that surrogacy cannot be equated with adoption of a child.

Kahkashan Perween (JDU) supported the bill but pointed out that none of the major recommendations of the committee was accepted by the government and sought relaxation of norms for surrogacy as well as adoption of a child.

P Wilson (DMK) said his party opposes the bill and demanded that it be sent to the parliamentary standing committee.

He questioned the provision of genetically closeness of surrogate mother (close relative clause) in the bill.

A Navneethakrishnan (AIDMK) supported the bill but said that there should be adequate provision for health cover for the surrogate mother.

A R Biswas (TMC) also demanded inclusion of the committee's recommendations and review of the bill.

However, he said he supported the bill.

While participating the debate, M V Rajeev Gowda of the Congress suggested some changes and said that the provisions of the bill should be aligned to the 21st century and not with the "Victorian Era". It has some "unjust provisions" and has some impracticality, he said.

"The complicated rules, regulation and procedures have been brought here and make it practically impossible to use surrogacy to be used effectively as a tool for those who want to," he said, adding, "There is lot of red tape, more than you have conceived of."

According to him, the bill says surrogacy should be used only for the reason of proven infertility.

"The minister himself is a doctor and know that there are reasons proven, which are beyond infertility such as absence of normal uterus, recurrent miscarriage etc, where it is unsafe for a woman to bear a child," he said, adding these considerations should also be looked and expand scope to other inabilities.

The bill also mandates that the surrogate mother should be married, has her own child and is between age of 25 to 35 years and a close relative of the intending couple.

"These are fairly restrictive," Gowda said, suggesting age to be increased.

He also suggested removal of the close relative clause saying it would put pressure on a person, whether she is willing or not and may also lead to domestic violence.

Tabling the bill, Harsh Vardhan said there were "malpractices" in it and there was a need to ban commercial surrogacy.

"There is commercialisation of surrogacy and there is also exploitation of the surrogate mothers. In the absence of the regulation in India, the country has emerged as a surrogacy hub for couples from different countries," he said.

According to him, some reports suggest that over 3,000 surrogacy clinics are operating in the country and over 2,000 foreign babies are born in this country every year.

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