India Must Tread Cautiously on Surrogacy Law

India is on course to ban commercial surrogacy and disallow foreigners and non-resident Indians from hiring surrogates in the country.

The Union Cabinet last week cleared the draft bill—Assisted Reproductive Technology (Regulation) Bill—which is likely to be introduced in the Parliament in the winter session. If passed, the Act will deal a death blow to the estimated $2 billion industry  that has made the country a global surrogacy hub.

The draft bill, proposed by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government, prohibits commercial surrogacy, like in the U.K., while permitting altruistic surrogacy. It proposes to now allow only heterosexual childless couples, married for at least five years, to have children through surrogate mothers, who have to be close relatives, and without the involvement of a financial transaction. It also lays down that only mothers with at least one child can offer to rent out their wombs, and may do so only once in their lifetime.

While commercial surrogacy has been practiced in India legally since 2002, the large-scale proliferation of the trade has so far gone on unchecked in the absence of any legislation. It is one of the very few countries—Russia, Ukraine, and some U.S. states are among others—where commercial surrogacy is practiced (Thailand, a formerly booming center for the procedure, banned commercial surrogacy last year). According to estimates by a UN-backed study of July 2012, the industry is worth more than $400 million a year, with over 3,000 fertility clinics across India.

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