Rent-A-Womb: The Surrogacy Debate in India

Surrogacy is commonly understood as a contract in which a woman carries a child in her womb for someone else. This someone could be an infertile couple or a single parent wanting to experience parenthood. India is a hub of medical tourism and surrogacy is a major contributor to the same. Owing to the low costs, good quality of care and high success rates of surrogacy in the country, a large number of people travel to India every year to have children through surrogacy. In July 20012, a study backed by the United Nations valued India’s surrogacy market at over $400 million, with over 3000 operational surrogacy clinics in the country.

Although, there has recently been a rowing debate in India with regard to permitting commercial and public surrogacy, as while surrogate mothers make some extra money by ‘renting their womb’, there are various ethical issues to be considered, especially because surrogate mothers have often been subject to exploitation in the past. Though laws protecting the interests of surrogate mothers exist, they are not free from loopholes and thus, are unable to solve this issue completely. In 2005, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) laid down rules and guidelines that were to be followed to ensure the proper regulation, supervision and accreditation of clinics specialising in Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART): these guidelines have repeatedly been violated.

Many ethical issues arise when we look towards surrogate mothers. A large proportion of these women tend to be from rural households. And while some of them view surrogacy as a way to earn money, in many cases, they do not enter this line of work willingly, and are often forced into it by their spouses and middlemen. After delivery, there is no psychological counselling or relief given to the female, nor is proper nutrition and care provided to help her body recover from the stress of the labour. Additionally, they do not get adequate money for being surrogates since middlemen keep most of the compensation for themselves. Moreover, being forced to be a surrogate can lead to negative feelings about one’s body, as these women have often talked about how they feel that their bodies are mere storehouses for the baby to grow, that they are just baby-producing machines and not women.

The heavy medical intervention required in order to make surrogacy possible can also adversely affect the health of the surrogate, as the procedures also require a stoppage of the normal birth and ovulation cycle of a female, which is done by taking hormone supplements and birth control pills. These pills and supplements, though medically tested, can have not only short-term side-effects but also long-term ill-effects on the body which can in extreme cases render a woman infertile.

In almost all cases, side effects are visible on a daily basis in the form of mood swings, headaches, hot flashes and drowsiness. These issues are hardly talked about in the press reports and consequently are often ignored or forgotten by the general public and probably even the decision makers.

The issue of surrogacy, its legalisation and enforcement, raise important questions in ethical, moral, and legal domains. While sound arguments on both sides of the issue continue to exist, the country is unable to establish consensus with regard to a adopting unified approach towards the practice of surrogacy. While one side champions the concerns surrounding the mental, physical and physiological well being of the surrogate mothers, the other side talks about how surrogacy acts like a win-win situation for both the couple who gets a child and the surrogate mother who is able to make extra money. The only conclusion that can be drawn from this continuing debate is that surrogacy is a sensitive topic and those involved need to be dealt with due care and sensitivity.

Contributed by Kuhikaa

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