Indians struggle with ethical surrogacy

on October 30, 2012

Surrogacy in India

Surrogacy continues to be hot topic, even in India where the procedure has become commonplace.  But will the government ever regulate the ethics of this industry?

In the absence of any meaningful government legislation, the primary guidelines in India regulating the practice of surrogacy are those of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), which date back to 2006.

But in the years since then, surrogacy has grown rapidly, and continues expanding by the day.  In 2012 India has emerged as a center for medical tourism, and being one of the few countries in the world where commercial surrogacy is widely available has made it a destination for couples around the world looking to start families.

Estimates for the value of this industry are around $2.3 billion.

The Hindu, an online publication from Chennai, reports a small town of Anand, previously known for its milk products, has rapidly put itself on the map as a worldwide destination for ‘surrogacy tourism’. The paper wonders if this is an indication that surrogacy has become an epidemic that has spread to rural life in India.

The paper also points out that surrogacy has a place in traditional Indian culture, even playing a role in the Krishna mythology.  The problem it seems is “Commercial Surrogacy”, which is to say the potential exploitation of poor women as surrogates.  (In this instance, unscrupulous profiteers could theoretically establish surrogacy as a new form of sexual slavery).

Commercial Surrogacy (as the name implies) is when the intended parents pay the surrogate a fee for her services, via a negotiated contract.  Contrast this to “Altruistic Surrogacy” where the surrogate provides her services for free, being compensated only for expenses.

Commercial surrogacy is widely regulated throughout the world.  Altruistic surrogacy is legal in many countries in Europe and North America.  In the UK for example, it is legal to be a surrogate, but not to hire a surrogate.  It is legal to perform a surrogacy procedure, but not to advertise that service.  It is interesting to note that in the UK, where the demarcation between Commercial and Altruistic surrogacy is “reasonable compensation” to the surrogate, the UK courts have never found ANY instance where the fees paid to Indian surrogates were unreasonable.

The article does not draw any conclusions, other than to draw attention to the need for government contemplation and legislation.  We agree, the government should create a set of guidelines defining “Ethical Surrogacy”, which intends to protect the health, dignity, and rights of the surrogates as well as the intended parents and child.  The ICMR guidelines would be a good start to that legislation.

While the surrogacy industry may attract unsavory individuals, its success suggests the value that it provides to both infertile couples and to potential surrogates, whose lives could be dramatically effected by the financial and other compensation it provides.  As in all things, the ethical implementation of this business depends on the right regulation that attempts to ensure the well being of all the parties, while still leaving the opportunity that the business offers in tact.

Read the entire article at: Motherhood for rent


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