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While surrogacy laws in India ostensibly protects the rights of surrogates, moral policing seems to be the real concern, than women’s health.
The desire to procreate is a very fundamental attribute of the human race. Unfortunately, many are deprived of the joy of parenthood due to several reasons, biological or otherwise. Developments in reproductive sciences and technologies have helped transcend the barriers to parenthood.
Surrogacy has evolved as a plausible mode of bringing a child into this world, for couples who cannot have children biologically. Surrogacy has also been a means of earning large sums of money in a relatively short span, for women who would otherwise earn their livelihood from cooking or cleaning in others’ homes, from selling vegetables or other random, unstable, odd jobs.
A draft bill which aims to safeguard the rights of surrogate mothers recently attained clearance from the Union Cabinet. In an affidavit to the Supreme Court last year, the Government had said that it does not support commercial surrogacy. If approved by Parliament, the law will ban people who do not hold an Indian passport, as well as Indian single parents and gay people, from having children through surrogacy.
I understand that there are legal, ethical, and emotional implications. And there have been instances of abandonment of the baby, health risks for the surrogate mother, citizenship issues of the child and underpayment of compensation, amongst others.
But should the government not try to regulate the industry instead and address proper implementation of surrogacy laws? The fact that foreign couples and Indian homosexual couples / single parents would be denied surrogacy is even more discriminatory and confusing. If the purpose is to protect a woman from exploitation, what difference does it make to her whether the womb is being rented by an Indian or a foreigner?
Speaking of exploitation, how many women in the country, poor or rich alike are married with the sole purpose of bearing a child? Everybody tells a man to find a ‘nice girl’, and settle down to start a family. At times, the same wife goes through multiple childbirths in an attempt to bear a male child, her consent being nobody’s concern.
In that process, she may have undergone abortions as well, much to the destruction of her physical and mental health. And these women get paid nothing for the use of their womb! Isn’t that exploitation of a woman? However, nobody raises an objection because it is all under the acceptable social realms of holy matrimony.
How is it an exploitation when an adult woman consents to carry a child for a couple in return for a monetary compensation? Should a woman not reserve the right of choice when it comes to her body?
Can the lawmakers understand the plight of a woman who is struggling financially to raise her child? Is it fair that she is being denied the opportunity to make her life better? Would people still care for their definition of ‘ethics’ if they had to worry about survival?
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I like to write about the problems that have plagued the Indian society. I feel
Tanvi I read most of your posts because most of the issues you cover are the ones I feel strongly about too. I also identify with many of your opinions. In the case of surrogacy I have several thoughts that flood my mind, just like you. You have asked many questions and I have some answers based on a documentary I recall seeing on the subject. The comprehensive list of reasons will undoubtedly be available in forums and literature of those discussing and deliberating the provisions of the bill. But my understanding so far is this- A law to regulate surrogacy was definitely long pending and over due. Commercial surrogacy is a dangerous idea on so many levels especially in countries with a vast population of uneducated, dependent women. First, it may easily become a form of “prostitution” where a woman’s womb may be forcibly rented out by someone she is dependent upon against her will. Secondly, a woman may be forced to have several children against her will or without her consent in other circumstances too which puts her health at definite risk but when you add the incentive/motivation of money to it, she and her family will even more be prompted to recklessly put her life at risk. Thirdly,since the mother and child are the most vulnerable of all people involved in such a service, they have to be protected the most. There have been instances where prospective parents (more so if they are not married to each other) have broken up during the period of surrogate mother’s pregnancy, and neither wants a child anymore -what happens then? The surrogate is left holding the baby and having to look after it or find an adoption home or abandon it(because it was never her intention nor is she capable to look after it well after birth). Now if these prospective parents are foreigners then what is the degree of accountability?The Indian mother or the government has to legally pursue individuals in a foreign land with so much of paper work all at whose expense? the State’s? Still further these women who are acting as surrogates are often poor rural uneducated women who will not know how to negotiate or even comprehend the financial aspects of their services. This leaves them vulnerable to the mercies of influential and powerful doctors and hospitals who are the ‘middle men’ in these deals and have a distinct advantage of understanding the market and executing a profit making deal. This leads to financial exploitation of the capitalist/industrialist/entrepreneur doctors of the poor illiterate women. Tanvi, you have rightly pointed out that within marriage there is exploitation of women in India and that too needs redress. However, two wrongs don’t make a right. We have to make right, each wrong. It takes time but we have to address each one separately. The government’s stepping in to regulate surrogacy and protect the mother and child, is very important and a step in the right direction.
Thanks Sonia for your thoughtful remarks. You have explained the other side of the arguments very well. I always read your comments not just on my articles but on other articles on Women’s Web. Readers like you make writing worthwhile and the discussion lively. 🙂
I cannot disagree with anything you have said. Protection of the mother and the baby is very important. My only point is that the Government should regulate commercial surrogacy, not ban it completely. Posing a ban is convenient. But since commercial surrogacy is something that could be beneficial for both parties, there should have been some efforts towards facilitating it, and enacting laws protecting the interests of both parties. An outright ban in my opinion is harsh. People who are in this situation (Prospective parents, and the surrogate mothers) know what they are getting into, and should be allowed to make a choice. Ofcourse, This is sensitive issue, and a lot of people I have interacted with share your views.
Dear Tanvi, I feel it is good that you do connect with your readers. Its important if only to understand whether, what one writes resonates with the reality and experience of others too. Readers and writers have to be on the same page to really connect. I am glad that you do read my comments and respond to them as well because (although I intend to write whole posts sometime in the future!) it is all that I write as of now!! Like you also said, a discussion helps clarify finer points and that is useful to readers and writers. As to the above discussion, I do understand your point about regulation of commercial surrogacy rather than banning it altogether and it is a valid proposition-if all were equal-a situation where there was no patriarchy, zero exploitation, equal education and financial independence of women etc. However, this is a very unequal world and unlike with other skills and services that could be easily and effectively converted to commerce, sex and pregnancy are two areas of womanhood that make her uniquely more vulnerable to exploitation and danger. Females by virtue of their physical biology and emotional make up are extremely vulnerable not just for that moment but for life itself, when engaging in sex or being in a pregnant condition. When commerce is added to the dynamic, it is a very dicey arrangement indeed. It inherently trivialises a woman’s circumstance of being extremely vulnerable and puts a value on her body parts and its functions- like a commodity that can be bought at a price- a price that can be determined not by herself but by outside forces of the market- forces of demand and supply. In doing this – it simultaneously devalues the unique risks and dangers she alone faces from the outcomes of engaging in these activities. It is a very complex discussion, one that is not unaffected by concepts of ethics, morality, psychology and emotions. It appears that logic alone cannot determine discussions of this nature. Like you rightly pointed out it is a sensitive issue and so a lot of discussion to hear all points of view is important.
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