Surrogacy Bill 2019: An Overview
Can we attribute a number to human life? Is it okay to ‘buy’ and ‘sell’ flesh and blood?
These are some pertinent moral questions that arise when we talk about surrogacy. And then there are more practical questions like, is it safe for the mother? What are the chances of exploitation? What if the surrogate mother refuses to surrender the child?
The Surrogacy Bill passed in the Lok Sabha on paper at least, aims to offer a solution. But this solution comes at the cost of depriving a sizable chunk of the population of the experience of parenthood.
The Bill bans commercial surrogacy and states that the surrogate mother must be a ‘close’ relative of the heterosexual married couple (Please note, couples only – Single parents are not allowed and the LGBTQ community is admonished). All under the shroud of the very altruistic statement that ‘it is for the welfare of the mother, and to prevent exploitation.’
Only altruistic surrogacy is permitted, that too when carried by a ‘close relative’.
The term ‘close relative’ to begin with, is problematic. What happens to couples that belong to different communities and have been disowned/ostracized by their families. What if they need a surrogate? What about individuals with no siblings? Does the term ‘close relative’ also include cousins? And what if a close relative exists but is unwilling?
Does that mean I am deprived of my right to be a parent?
Even if we were to concede to the idea of altruistic surrogacy, the criterion to be one is too narrow, and frankly unrealistic. You have to be between the ages of 25-35 and have a child of your own and also be closely related to the couple.
Further, the couple has to be married for at least five years and must not have a child (if they do, an exception is only made when the child suffers from physical/mental impairment).
Since when did the State reserve the right to poke its nose into people’s reproductive choices? Where did the fundamental right of privacy suddenly vanish?
If anything, this will just lead to the entire industry going underground and things, will just get dirtier and murkier. On paper, piracy is illegal, child labour is illegal, feticide is illegal, but does that mean it doesn’t happen? Of course, it does.
The fundamental question that I ask is, why can’t a woman decide for herself what she wants to do with her body?
An adult woman, has all the intelligence and intellectual capabilities to think for herself and to make decisions pertaining to her body, which include, renting her womb. Surrogacy is a 2 Billion Dollar Industry and 25000 children are being born annually through surrogate mothers in India alone. Why is it so hard for us to accept that it is a viable, thriving enterprise?
And what happens to women who depend on commercial surrogacy to make their ends meet? Is it okay to suddenly deem their profession illegal and to deny them their staple source of income?
No one seems to voice any discontent towards sperm donors being paid money, or for blood donors being paid for their blood, somehow, we always have to place motherhood on a pedestal and make it seem like a mystical process, reserved only for those who adhere to the societal standards of femininity? An aberration, shall blatantly be stripped off this ‘privilege’.
I also have a problem with the citation of ‘health hazards’ to the mother. By that logic, cigarettes and liquor are also hazardous. But no one will ever ban them, because these are self-sustaining industries that are contributors to the economy. But in the case of anything remotely pertaining to women, there is an intuitive need to exercise control.
This is an industry with immense scope and potential that can prove to be a safe environment for mothers, if implemented with stringent yet sensitive checks in place.
The bigger problem lies in the fact that, in the name of empowerment, the Bill just makes surrogate mothers more susceptible to exploitation. What should have been brought about instead, are provisions for the health and welfare of surrogate mothers, like access to proper healthcare, maternity benefits, insurance, secure payments and provisions to protect the best interests of the unborn child. But the bill does anything but that.
In my opinion, the bill is a superficially thought out and hastily implemented bill that is fundamentally cemented in abject patriarchy.
Milana Prakash is an Editorial Assistant at One Future Collective.
Featured image source: Vajiram and Ravi
Disclaimer: Views shared in this article are personal and may not represent that of the organisations.