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Laws should be framed to protect the rights of children born out of surrogacy, say Doctors

New Delhi: During the last couple of years, the society has been debating and fighting against the plight of surrogate mothers who suffer a great deal in the whole surrogacy saga but the industry still continues to flourish despite all the shady work it undertakes under the cause of giving happiness to childless couple.

However, little attention has been given to many abandoned surrogate children who are born from the rented womb of the same women who were once showered with all the affection and care during the gestation period.

If a baby she (the surrogate mother) delivers is healthy, free from any complications, has the same colour as parents and is of the same preferable gender as the couple wanted, the couple happily takes the child with them. But if the baby is born with any chronic illness like Down syndrome or the biological parents are not really happy with the newborn for various reasons – colour, gender etc, the fate of the newborn hangs in balance.

They (the newborns) are usually abandoned, adopted by another willing couple, or simply sold off or trafficked between several people.

Recently, an Australian couple abandoned one of the twins born through surrogacy in India, apparently to keep one of the twins based on its gender. In the absence of any law to regulate the industry, which is pegged at $2.3 billion annually, cases like these are not uncommon and often go unreported — thanks to a good understanding between agents, IVF clinics, surrogate mothers and the clients.

What happened to the child is not yet known, sold off or adopted by someone, but it has yet again highlighted the urgent need to regulate commercial surrogacy.

Experts say the frequency of such cases is not known, but in the absence of legal safeguards it would not be an exaggeration to say that hundreds of unwanted children born through surrogacy are left to die every year.

Dr Sonia Malik, Director, Southend Fertility & IVF Centre, New Delhi told India Medical Times, “Surrogacy is an unregulated industry. There are ICMR guidelines but no laws for regulation. Surrogacy is a very helpful way to help millions of childless couples have a biological baby of their own but the industry is in bad news over some time due to the incidents of malpractices.”

Dr Malik said, “The Australian couple who left one of the twins is completely liable to take care of the baby and there is no way for them to escape. They must have a contract under which they were responsible for their biological child born through a surrogate mother. Moreover, what they did was morally wrong too.”

She further said, “The problem is everyone is becoming an agent for surrogates. Surrogate mothers who have rented their wombs earlier enter independently into the profession full time and come to us with a childless couple. Both the parties are unaware of the legal issues involved and it is the duty of a good IVF clinic to make them aware of the clauses of contract and they should be made liable in case of breach. But in reality, this doesn’t happen. Contracts are not properly framed, the surrogate mother doesn’t care much either and cases like underpayment, abandoning of children happen.”

“Surrogacy is in bad light because people involved in it work against the law. Otherwise, there is no need to get worried about the whole concept as barring few bad cases, it helps most of the couples. The law that is being framed at present by the government should make all the stakeholders equally responsible in the process. Under it, there should be special clauses to take care of the child born through surrogacy. Enrolment of agencies, clinics and agents should be done so that no one can escape,” added Dr Malik.

Dr Kiran Arora, IVF Consultant, Gurgaon IVF Clinic, told India Medical Times, “I was shocked to hear the news of abandoning one child on the basis of gender preference. According to me, this is a crime. They (the Australian couple) are legally liable to bear the responsibility of the child. The surrogacy industry has been running in the country for such a long time without any laws, when the laws should have been in place already.”

Dr Arora further said, “The laws should clearly take into regard the welfare of the children who have been abandoned and of the children who will come in this world through surrogacy. Everyone is thinking about surrogate mothers. What about the children they deliver?”

Dr Geeta Mediratta, Senior Consultant, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, New Delhi, told India Medical Times, “I come across cases of infertile couple on a daily basis to whom I suggest a test tube baby or surrogacy as an option. So, it is like a god send gift for them. IVF clinics should adopt the rightful practices so that no surrogate child born is left to die. I urge the government to frame the laws at the earliest and take into consideration the state of children who are left back by their biological parents.”

It’s a well-known fact that every year hundreds of women from poor background lend their wombs without adequate knowledge and formal procedures that could ensure their safety in case of any untoward incident later. It is natural that a surrogate mother, who finds it extremely difficult to manage her day-to-day needs, cannot take care of the child who was left behind by the commissioning parents. The absence of proper laws in this regard helps clinics, agents and the commissioning parents to shrug off their responsibility very easily. The question that now arises is – who will take care of that unwanted child?

by Vidhi Rathee

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