New laws to regulate assisted reproductive technology in India will be introduced to Parliament later this year. The text of the Assisted Reproductive Technology (Regulation) Bill 2008 was published last month by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) for public comment. The bill aims to regulate surrogacy arrangements in the country where regulation is lacking, in addition to other technologies including pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) and research on embryos.
The bill will set up a National Advisory Board for Assisted Reproductive Technology to oversee the delivery of the services in the country. A regulatory body, the Registration Authority, will grant licences to fertility clinics to store gametes and offer fertility services. Embryo research must be performed on embryos donated for research and not stored beyond 14 days. Researchers must apply for a licence from the Registration Authority to perform research on embryos. The bill will also make it a criminal offence to perform sex-selection procedures except to prevent or treat a sex-linked disorder or disease.
Media reports last August about a baby girl, Manyi Yamada, showed inadequacies in India’s regulation of surrogacy, which was legalised in 2002. Manyi was born to an Indian surrogate mother, but the Japanese couple who arranged the surrogacy split up prior to the birth of the child. The child’s biological father sought parental rights over the child but Indian laws were not clear on the status of foreign parents involved in surrogacy arrangements within its borders and the matter had to be decided in the
courts. The new bill will clarify this area by making a surrogate child the legitimate child of a separated or divorced couple. Foreigners seeking surrogacy arrangements in the country will be required to register with their embassy and will have to state with whom the child should be looked after in the event of one of the parent’s death. Following surrogacy, the child’s birth certificate will show the names of both genetic parents. The bill also forbids women under 21 from entering into surrogacy arrangements and from having more than three live births in their lifetime. Once a surrogate child attains the age of 18, they may apply for information about their surrogate parent.
India’s Health Ministry does not keep official statistics on the number of surrogate births in the country but it is believed to be low. Media reports suggest that surrogacy arrangements in India can attract surrogate fees of between $12,000 to $30,000, with the industry being worth around $445m. The bill does not ban offering surrogate mothers compensation for their services. Dr P M Bhargava, a member of the ICMR who helped draft the bill, told the Times of India that, ‘considering all the news about surrogacy, including the recent case of the Japanese child, we realised that the new law addresses all the problem areas’.
The bill was timetabled to be debated by the Indian Parliament in the winter session. It met with stiff opposition from the Medical community and will be now reviewed by the Indian Law Ministry.