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Surrogacy: A Multi-million Business In India
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At later stages, when they finally decide to plan their families, it often gets too late, because of the changes caused in the body of women, which are irrevocable. That is when couples seek for other ways, such as adoption or surrogacy. Such practices have caused the method of surrogacy to become a commercial business in the country.
Commercial surrogacy or ‘rent a womb’ is the process where a woman is paid a certain amount of fees by willing parents (either a couple or an individual) for carrying and delivering the baby. At the time of birth, the child is handed over to the individual or couple. Various ways through which a surrogate mother may conceive a baby are through:
‘intercourse’ with either the husband of the surrogate mother or some other man;
‘artificial insemination’, which includes introducing or injecting semen into the reproductive tract of a female; and,
‘in vitro fertilization’, which is a specialized technique by which an ovum is fertilized by sperm outside the body, with the resulting embryo later implanted in the uterus for gestation.
Through the surrogacy agreement between a surrogate mother and the clients, which lays down the obligations of both the concerned parties and offers legal protection for clients and surrogates under the Indian contract law it also mentions the amount that is to be paid to the surrogate mother and the periods at which she will be paid. After signing the contract, the surrogate mother signs away all parental rights towards the child after birth.
‘Rent a womb’ has become one of the flourishing industries in India as it generates multi-millionaires of profit, making the country a lucrative centre as the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) has anticipated that it will produce $ 2-3 billion per annum. In the year 2002, commercial surrogacy was legalized in the country, which ensuingly became the center of attraction for people from those countries where surrogacy is illegal. Also, cheap medical facilities, advanced reproductive technologies, poor socio-economic conditions and a lack of stringent laws are the major contributing factors that gathers attraction of potential clients from foreign lands.
According to an estimation, approximately 25,000 children have been born to surrogates in which 50 percent of the total number has been of the clients coming from the West. In India, unlike other countries, the method is considered to be somewhat ethical as it gives the blessing of a new little member in the family who are not lucky enough to have it on their own with the help of a willing surrogate.
Unfortunately, the ‘rent a womb’ business is also causing exploitation of the surrogate mothers, which ultimately leaves them helpless. A report supported by the Ministry of Women and Child Development named ‘Surrogacy Motherhood: Ethical or Commercial?” marked that 26% surrogates in Delhi and 44 % in Mumbai were paid Rs. 3 lakh to Rs. 3.99 lakh and most of them were domestic helps with a monthly earning of merely Rs. 3000. But, the agents pay them only between Rs. 75,000 to Rs. 1 lakh. “This clearly points to the exploitative nature of business,” noted Dr. Ranjana Kumari, director, the Centre for Social Research. “No fixed compensation structure, no laws that cater to the health and number of births that a surrogate can support and usually incomplete advertisements of the services by medical establishments work against the interest of the women involved in the case,’’ she added.
The Baby Gammy controversy marred the surrogacy business with ethical issues. A Thai surrogate had given birth to twins named Gammy and Pipah. After the birth, the intended parents had abandoned Gammy, who was affected from Down’s syndrome. The parents took only Pipah to Australia, who was completely normal and healthy. The couple gave an argument that they were not informed about Gammy’s condition which put up a lot of questions on international surrogacy as a result persuading the stakeholders of India’s surrogacy industry to pay attention.
Now arises a question, what happens to the baby, if it is not healthy enough or has a disability? They renounce the responsibility and leave the child behind. In fact, many of them deny the fee proposed to the biological mothers. The founder of Trivector Origio Scientific Pvt. Ltd., Dilip Patil says that surrogacy is illegal in the country for intended parents to leave their child behind.
However, in Thailand surrogates have some parental rights unlike Indian surrogates who dispense with the rights straight after signing the contract. “So intended parents have to take the child, regardless of whether it has a deformity or disability,” he says.
Dr. Nayna Patel, the medical director of Akanksha Infertility Clinic in Anand, says certain tests can easily detect abnormalities in the first trimester. This is important, she stresses, because termination can be done if something is picked up. “The Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) guidelines laid down by the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) clearly mention that a child can be terminated if major malformations are found. Women who don’t believe in abortion are advised not to enter surrogacy at all. In any case, the anti-abortion belief is not prevalent in India,” she reasons.
One cannot be completely against surrogacy as it helps those who are naturally devoid of begetting a child. But, stringent laws should be made for the agents and intended parents that the biological mothers are not exploited, and it should be closely observed whether those laws are being followed. Since, most of the surrogate mothers are domestic help and are willing to do this for generating financial resources, the agents befool them. The union health minister Dr. Harsh Vardhan has expressed to transform the ART guidelines into strict laws.
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