The Indian government is considering a bill to ban commercial surrogacy, which will only allow Indian couples married for at least five years to use surrogacy.
The Surrogacy Regulation Bill 2016 excludes people who do not hold an Indian passport, single parents and homosexual couples from engaging in surrogacy services in the country. Instead, couples affected by infertility that do not have other children can seek a 'close relative' surrogate, who will offer their womb for the purpose only once, reports the Times of India.
'This is a comprehensive bill to completely ban commercial surrogacy,' said India's Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj. 'Childless couples, who are medically unfit to have children, can take help from a close relative, which is called altruistic surrogacy.'
Under the proposed law, the surrogate will be the legal mother of the child. They must also be aged between 23 and 50, while their husbands should be between 26 and 55 years old, and be a 'close relative' of the intended parents. Couples who do not have close relatives will not have access to surrogacy, however, and will have to adopt a child to become parents. Any violations of the law or abandonment of a child will lead to a 10-year imprisonment and a fine of 1 million rupee (£11,384).
'Regulating surrogacy is a good move, but the point that only close relatives will be allowed to become surrogates needs to be reviewed. Most couples will not have close relatives who will agree to do this,' fertility expert Dr Aniruddh Malpani told DNA India.
Agreeing with him, Dr Bipin Pandit, gynaecologist and member of the Maharashtra Medical Council, said surrogacy is a legitimate form of assisted reproductive technology. 'How many close relatives will be willing to become a surrogate mother? Couples who have no choice but surrogacy for becoming parents will suffer,' he said.
India has no legislation in place to regulate surrogacy despite repeated attempts at introducing a bill to regulate assisted reproductive technologies (see BioNews 594). The latest version, which deals specifically with surrogacy (see BioNews 824), was approved by the Government's Union Cabinet last week.
The move is aimed at curbing practices which some perceive as unethical in a country that has been gaining a reputation as a surrogacy hub for foreign intended parents. According to Swaraj, surrogacy has also become a 'fashion' and is used by women, especially celebrities, who do not want to go through the labour pain.
Speaking to the Hindustan Times, Dr Archana Dhawan Bajaj, fertility and IVF expert at The Nurture Clinic, said: 'The new regulation will bring in transparency and make it easier to audit centres that do not follow best practices and parents that break the law.'
The bill, which has invited mixed reactions, will be introduced in Parliament in the winter session. The industry is reportedly now worth about US$1 billion (£758 million) a year.