India draws praise for plan to end foreign surrogacy

India draws praise for plan to end foreign surrogacy

Credit: Sandro Lacarbona via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).
Credit: Sandro Lacarbona via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

.- Known as the surrogacy capital of the world, India has announced that it would like to end its practice of allowing foreigners to contract surrogate pregnancies.

“The government does not support commercial surrogacy and also the scope of surrogacy is limited to Indian married infertile couples only and not to the foreigners,” the Indian government said Oct. 28, according to BBC News. 

Currently, the Indian government allows foreign couples to participate in a surrogacy agreement, but under the conditions of being engaged in a heterosexual, marital relationship of two or more years. 

In an effort to better regulate the industry, the government has introduced a new policy that would ban foreigners from partaking in surrogacy services within India and exclusively provide the practice to married couples in the country who are struggling with infertility. 

The new proposal would need to be approved by Parliament before it goes into effect, the New York Times reports.

Jennifer Lahl, president and founder of the Center for Bioethics and Culture Network, said the proposal is a good move. 

“I don't think it's where they need to end up, but I think it's a great start because there have just been too many stories coming out of India about women being exploited and babies being abandoned or left,” Lahl told CNA.

“I am happy because it is a step in the right direction,” she said.

Although illegal in other countries, surrogacy for profit has been fueling an increasingly lucrative $1 billion business in India, where men and women from around the world “rent” the wombs of Indian women to carry their embryos in exchange for money. The practice is most often used by older women, infertile couples and same-sex couples.

The Washington Post reports that more than 6,000 surrogate babies are born in India every year, with almost half of them belonging to foreign couples. Additionally, the cost of service is usually anywhere from $18,000-$30,000 per pregnancy, $8,000 of which is reportedly paid to the surrogate mother herself, according to the Guardian.

However, concerns over the largely unregulated industry have been raised in the name of the mothers. In many surrogacy agreements, women of lower castes are pulled into surrogacy work because of the money involved, heightening the risk of exploitation and abuse. 

“Why are they in India? Because there are poor women there,” Lahl asserted. 

“In my mind, the best piece of legislation would be for India, like other countries such as Germany or France, to ban surrogacy altogether,” she said.

Although surrogacy is a common practice, many of the women participating are poor and illiterate, critics charge, and they often don't realize the health implications of carrying a child that is not their own. Reuters reported that many of the surrogate mothers they interviewed could not explain the risks involved with surrogate pregnancies or the danger of having multiple embryos in their uterus.   

“There are tremendous health risks, it's not like a natural pregnancy... surrogate pregnancies have additional risks on top of natural pregnancy risks,” Lahl said. 

Birth mother bond with their babies – in utero, at birth and after birth – she said, and surrogacy entails a forced separation that is unnatural and harmful.

“When you have a contract where you are asking a woman to use her body to grow a baby, it's bad for mothers, it's bad for babies, it’s bad for society. It's exploitive,” she continued.

Recognition of this danger is why the Indian government has now introduced “a comprehensive legal framework for not only protecting the rights of surrogate mothers but also for prohibiting and penalizing commercial surrogacy,” according to BBC News. 

Lahl applauded the move as a step in the right direction, while emphasizing that more needs to be done.

“I don't think [India] wants to be seen as a reproductive tourism destination spot,” she said. “I think they are rightfully concerned about the abuses in their country.”

Tags: India, Surrogacy