Let me begin by telling you a story- the story of Baby Manji. She was born in the summer of 2008, to a surrogate mother- using the sperm of a Japanese man and an egg from an unknown source (reportedly a Nepali/Indian). But even before she was born, her parents had decided to part ways. The wife who wasn’t genetically linked to the baby didn’t want her, and the husband whose sperm was used to create the embryo, wanted the baby. The actual twist, however, came after her birth.
It was a catch 22 situation where Indian rules required the child to be legally adopted before leaving the country, but barred single men from adopting. And Japanese law didn’t recognize surrogacy. Hence Manji’s Japanese father was denied travel documents for the baby. In the months to follow, Baby Manji kicked up a storm and after a prolonged legal battle, the story ended well. Manji got her Japanese visa to leave India.
Surrogacy isn’t really a new practice in the country. Don’t we have mythological references where Yashoda played mother to Krishna, though, Devki and Vasudev were the biological parents? In the last decade, India has been a leader and a sought after destination in surrogacy-related fertility tourism, due to the relatively low cost, with costs being roughly a third of the price compared to a procedure in the UK. We have here altruistic surrogacy, in which no charges or monetary incentive of any kind is involved. We also have commercial surrogacy which has been legally permitted since 2002, by way of giving monetary incentive in cash or kind, to the surrogate mother or her dependents or representative.
Years after Baby Manji was born, a new surrogacy regulation bill has been passed in India. But does it really answer all our questions?
The new bill would now not support commercial surrogacy, and a proposed new law would allow surrogacy only for Indian couples and not foreigners. It also bars single parents, homosexuals, live-in couples and, married woman who has at least one child of her own. Henceforth, only infertile couples who have been married for at least five years can seek a surrogate and, the surrogate must be a close relative. This bill has yet again brought the whole issue of surrogacy into limelight, with many being critical of it. Infertility specialists are of the opinion that such a law could lead to an illegal surrogacy industry. And things could just get more difficult for infertile couples for whom assisted reproductive technology provides hope. What if both the partners are single child? Whom would they turn to for a surrogate?
As a general practice and this is across the globe, we consider the woman giving birth to a child as the legal mother. But in surrogacy, the intended parents are to be recognized as the legal parents from birth, by virtue of the fact that the surrogate has signed a contract to hand over the child on birth to the commissioned parents. Not many countries in the world consider/recognize surrogacy. Luckily India is one of those few countries which recognizes surrogacy and considers the Intended/ Commissioning Parent/s as the legal parents.
I have often found the social aspects surrounding surrogacy to be complex. Well, mostly unsettled too. Various questions crop up in my mind- Who is a mother? Who is a father? Are there changes to the core definition of family? If so, is this progress?
If we do consider ourselves progressive, I wonder why many in our society aren’t in favour of adoption over surrogacy. Why is it still important to have some sort of genetic link to the child they are bringing into their lives?
I wonder why!!
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