Nirmala, a 30 year old woman from Chandigarh planned to ‘rent out her womb’ and the reports highlighted by the media were received with dismay. Her unconventional plans to raise money for the treatment of her husband raised many eyebrows and the legal, social and ethical ramifications of the latest technologies being introduced were questioned.
The fact that surrogate motherhood was as old as the Mahabharata and Bible, when surrogate mothers got impregnated through sexual intercourse, is being overlooked. The problem of infertility is a serious one in our society and the social stigma involved include abandoning wives. The economic pressures that entail should indeed find welcome support through IVF.
The IVF method comprises artificial insemination involving the husband’s or denors sperm and the ova from the wife or surrogate mother is used for fertilization. The resulting embryos are then implanted in the woman’s or surrogate mother’s womb. The techniques today have in-vitro fertilization being used to achieve pregnancy in a petri dish.
Since the birth of the first test tube baby in 1978 there have been demands for promulgation of laws to solve the disputes which were likely to crop up as derivatives of modern techniques. The infertility related private health care systems have become one big money squeezing industry which is totally unregulated and based on profitability rather than need. Experts have clearly opined “As in other situations these health services are capitalizing on cultural demands and on people’s poverty.”
There have been several cases of disputes and legal battles, highly publicized by the media, between a widow, who wanted a child from her husband’s frozen sperm, and her step children, surrogate mothers and couples who had a mutual agreement before pregnancy to deliver the child to the couple without any if’s and but’s. What has the law to say if the surrogate mother refuses to part with the child, ‘her’ child, carried in her womb, nurtures during pregnancy and delivered naturally with all the effort and pain involved. Even her body has suffered due to this. If the women has used her resources, in this case her womb and body, to earn money for an honorable cause like Nirmala, what has the law to say about this?
The rarity of the surrogate practice has still not raised the storm of controversies it should have but the scenario is fast becoming demanding and our laws should be prepared to deal with eventualities. The World Health Organization conducted a worldwide survey the details of which are every informative. The percentage of infertility in couple in US and UK are quite high compared compared with 2 to 6 percent of couples in India who have been classified as technically infertile. The derivatives have been arrived at after failure to conceive, even after several years of unprotected sex. But even in those developed countries with a considerable higher percentage of infertility, the cases of surrogacy are quite rare.
We have several social problems which need to be looked into and would definitely help in such situations, if addressed properly. Our orphanages are teeming with good looking and intelligent children ready for adoption but the legal deterrents and procedures are such that this becomes the last option. It becomes definitely more appealing to have a child of their own, from their own embryo’s with lesser hassles even if it is more expensive.
While we are discussing the legal implications of surrogacy, it needs to be investigated as to why an invalid husband has to see his wife publicly announcing her ‘womb for rent’. All this because she needs the money to pay for medical treatment of her husband. What kind of a governance do we have in the country? What does our Constitution guarantee in such cases? When we pay one of the highest taxes regarding personal taxation, when even retired old men, widows and senior citizens see their only earnings, interest on their deposits with Banks and Government Deposits, slashed below comprehensible levels, why cannot the state ensure medical treatment for such economically weak patients? Nirmala has an earning of Rs. 700 per month, hardly enough for one square meal a day. What alternative is she left with?