Health Minister J P Nadda has proposed a bill in Lok Sabha which bans commercial surrogacy and allows only close relatives of married infertile couples to act as surrogate for ‘altruistic’ reasons. The lower house passed the bill on Wednesday.

While Nadda called the ‘Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2016’ historic, opposition parties, including the Congress and AIADMK, criticized it over various issues. Nadda went on to favour the bill by saying how the different sections of society, political parties, Supreme Court and Law Commission have protested against surrogacy and that the bill addresses these concerns. He further said that India has become a breeding ground for commercial surrogacy and it leads to exploitation of women.

“The bill protects women from exploitation and ensures the rights of the child born through surrogacy. All sections of society demand it,” he said.

The bill bans commercial surrogacy but allows needy infertile couples to partake altruistic surrogacy under strict regulation. Altruistic surrogacy is only applicable to Indian citizens. It does not allow foreigners, NRIs and PIOs to seek surrogacy in the country. The bill also outlaws homosexuals, single parents, and live-in couples from having a surrogate child. Couples, who already have a child, will also not be able to get a surrogate child but they are free to adopt through a separate law.

Members of different parties also extended their support for the bill but Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar of the Trinamool Congress and NCP’s Supriya Sule said that the government should broaden the categories in which it is applicable.

While Sule agreed that the bill is good b, she lamented that it is not modern enough. Dastidar, on the other hand, said that the bill should also include homosexual couples and allow them to avail surrogacy. Sule protested against “fashion surrogacy” which she said means that a few celebrities want children through surrogacy because they don’t want to destroy their figures.

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BJD’s Bhartruhari Mahtab pointed out that surrogacy is thriving because of regulatory gaps and asked that the government should define who close relatives can be. The bill proposes to regulate surrogacy by establishing appropriate authorities at the central level and in states and Union Territories (UTs), an official statement had said. Once the Parliament enacts the bill, the National Surrogacy Board will be constituted.

The bill allows altruistic surrogacy only for legally married couples after five years of marriage and with a doctor’s certificate stating that they are medically unfit to reproduce

States and UTs will constitute the state surrogacy boards and state appropriate authorities within three months of the notification by the central government. The law prohibits commercial surrogacy of all kinds, including sale and purchase of human embryo and gametes. India is emerging as a hub for commercial surrogacy and some of the concerning activities that take place in the trade are unethical practices, exploitation of surrogate mothers, abandonment of children born out of surrogacy and rackets of intermediaries importing human embryos and gametes.

The bill allows altruistic surrogacy only for legally married couples after five years of marriage. The couple must furnish a doctor’s certificate stating that they are medically unfit to reproduce. The eligible age for surrogacy for women within the age group of 23 to 50 years and men between 26 to 55 years. Close relative eligible for surrogacy could be the couple’s sister or sister-in-law who has at least one healthy biological child. One woman can perform surrogacy only once in her lifetime. The bill also has penal provision for misuse of surrogacy.

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