Surrogate Motherhood

The story of Abraham and Hagar and the event of the incarnation of Jesus clearly establish a historical precedent which can never be denied. – Ignacio L. Gotz

The word ‘surrogate’ means ‘substitute’. The concept of surrogate mother originated at the time when it became possible to create life of own child in other’s womb. Surrogacy is an arrangement in which a woman agrees to carry a pregnancy that is genetically unrelated to her and her husband, with the intention to carry it to term and hand over the child to the genetic parents for whom she is acting as a surrogate. The surrogate acts as a gestator or ‘incubator’. It has existed from Biblical times. Altruism prompted a woman to try to help another who for biological reasons was not capable of bearing her own child.

The successful birth of the world’s first baby conceived by in vitro fertilization (IVF) and embryo transfer occurred on July 25, 1978, in the UK. The world’s second IVF baby was born 67 days later on October 3, 1978 in Kolkata. It involves hiring of a womb, tasked with keeping a foetus alive until it is ready to given to natural parents. Surrogacy is practiced out of love or for money considerations. Surrogate parenthood involves expensive procedures, but it is now entirely medically viable. That makes it an option for wealthy people with fertility problems and no desire, for whatever reasons, to adopt. The study conducted by Professor Olga van den Akker from the Department of Psychology, Middlesex University, Hendon, London, UK, from revealed that younger women were more willing to become surrogate mothers.

In the states of Arizona, New Jersey, and Michigan all forms of surrogacy are prohibited. Kentucky, Nebraska, and Washington only surrogacy, based on commerce is prohibited. In England, the law lets the surrogate mother receive some kind of reimbursement for genuine medical and pregnancy related expenses. Surrogacy Contracts Act provides that introducing, or agreeing to introduce; inducing; arranging or negotiating prospective parties to a surrogacy contract is an offence. Commercial surrogacy is prohibited in European countries such as France, Greece, Denmark and the Netherlands. Germany, Sweden, Norway and Italy prohibit every kind of surrogacy arrangements.

India’s first scientifically documented IVF baby was, however, born on August 6, 1986 in Mumbai, through the support of the Indian Council of Medical Research. It started from a small town Anand, in Gujarat. Commercial surrogacy, which is banned in some states and some European countries, was informally legalized in India in 2002. The cost comes to about $25,000, roughly a third of the typical price in America.

As per the National Guidelines for Accreditation, a supervision and regulation of ART clinics, surrogacy arrangements is a ‘legal parenthood option’. Biological parents must adopt a child born through surrogacy and the sale or transfer of human embryos outside the country is prohibited. The legislation would protect the interest of the surrogate mother, the surrogate child and the natural parents. It would also make provisions for rights of surrogate mother for expert counseling and medical care. The Report submitted by Women Service Society (Kerala) in December 2005 desired that appropriate, detailed records of all donor eggs, sperms or embryos used and the manner of their use be maintained. These records must be maintained for at least four decades. A surrogate mother, carrying a child biologically unrelated to her, must register as a patient in her own name, while registering, she must mention that she is surrogate mother and provide all the necessary information about the genetic parents such as names, address etc. All the expenses of the surrogate mother during the period of pregnancy and post- natal care relating to pregnancy should be bone by the couple seeking surrogacy. The surrogate mother would also be entitled to a monetary compensation from the couple for agreeing to act as a surrogate. The exact value of this compensation should be decided mutually between the couple and the proposed surrogate mother.

Women’s Reproductive Rights Information Campaign in Britain is ‘concerned about how technologies such as surrogacy would affect women in the Third World countries. Poor women in Africa, Asia and South America would be paid a pittance for the use of their wombs by Westerners, who would not consider asking other Western women to do the same. Third World countries could become bases for manufacturing embryos. Surrogacy denies even the recognition of the woman’s biological contribution. For this reason, surrogacy is often called ‘baby selling’ and surrogates ‘whores’. It is seen as a way of exploiting women for the benefit of men, who ensure that the baby has their genes. It turns a normal biological function of a woman’s body into a commercial contract. Surrogate services are advertised. Surrogates are recruited and operating agencies make large profits. The commercialism of surrogacy raises fears of black market, baby selling and breeding farms, turning impoverished women into baby producers and the possibility of selective breeding at a price. NPR report has expressed certain concerns: “You have no idea if your surrogate mother is smoking, drinking alcohol, doing drugs. You don’t know what she’s doing. You have a third-party surrogate mother agency as a mediator between the two of you, but there’s no one policing her in the sense that you don’t know what’s going on.” Are surrogacy and all the methods of artificial fertilization, whether in vitro or in utero ethically unjustifiable?

Even if it oversteps the natural ways of procreation, only those who have been able to get children from it know the value of legitimacy of surrogacy. At times, in a society like India, where barrenness is considered incompleteness for a woman, people have no option, but to resort to it to live peacefully in society. We cannot consider it against the unity of marriage, as even adoption is legally permissible. Then why not surrogacy? The need of the hour is legislation on the point to regulate and guide the practice of surrogate motherhood.

Bhumika Sharma

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