Importance of Infertility Bill

| July 26, 2015 | 0 Comments

Fertility is Nature’s greatest gift to mankind as it is the key to continuity of our species. It is, therefore, natural for a man or woman to want to have a child. However, 10 to 15 per cent of couples — married or unmarried — in the world are infertile. (Contrary to traditional belief, in about half the cases the fault lies with the man.) Therefore, infertility should be considered as the most highly prevalent disease in the world. Infertility is a consequence of a genetic defect or an adverse environmental factor. For example, certain plastics release chemicals in the environment that lead to lowering of the sperm count in the semen of men.

Fortunately some 85 per cent of the cases of infertility can be taken care of at a good infertility clinic, called ART (assisted reproductive technology) clinic. The most common ART technique is in vitro fertilisation (IVF) in which the egg (oocyte) of a woman is fertilised by the sperm of the man in the laboratory; hence, the name, Test Tube Baby, given to a child born in this way. Another commonly used ART technique is ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection) in which one carefully chosen sperm is injected into an egg. Robert G Edwards who discovered the IVF technique, received the Nobel Prize for Physiology in 2010. Over two million babies have been born using this technique since the early 1980s. In another commonly used technique the fertilised egg obtained through IVF or ICSI, is implanted into the uterus of a woman who may bear no relationship to the child that she would be delivering and is, therefore, called a surrogate mother.

On account of the nature of ART, the chances of its misuse are enormous; in fact, we already know that such misuse in the country is legion. Some countries like France and Germany, do not permit surrogacy.

It is important that we have a law that would require accreditation of all ART clinics, which would have appropriate provisions for their supervision and regulation and which would ensure that there are no unethical practices. According to a report in Deccan Chronicle (January 28), there are nearly 22,000 clinics that are engaged in the business of surrogacy in Andhra Pradesh; the same report says that Hyderabad has at least 2,500 clinics that claim to do IVF but only 11 of them are registered with the authorities concerned. I would be surprised if even a fraction of the surrogate or IVF clinics operate ethically.

We have a Bill for accreditation and supervision of infertility clinics, which has been ready for quite some two years or so to be put up for Cabinet’s approval. The Bill was finalised over a period of some five years, taking into account the comments of the National Human Rights Commission, National Commission for Women, civil society, and concerned NGOs. I have had the privilege of being the chairman of the final drafting committee for the Bill and its rules and regulations. Unfortunately, the movement of the Bill after its finalisation has been painfully slow. What is satisfying is that a large number of good and reliable ART clinics around the country are following the provisions of the Bill.

If this Bill would have been an Act, by now, the recent case of Vanburen Green would not have arisen. Vanburen Green who is an American citizen and whose husband is Jamaican, wanted a child but could not have it in the normal course as she was infertile. She had a donor egg fertilised by her husband’s sperm using IVF, and made appropriate financial and other arrangement with a woman provided by Rama Infertility Clinic in Hyderabad to act as a surrogate. The surrogate mother gave birth to a son for whom she has been unable to obtain a passport.

The relevant provisions in the Assisted Reproductive Technology Regulation Bill (Section 34.19) and Rules mentioned above, are as follows: ‘A foreigner or foreign couple not resident in India, or a non-resident Indian individual or couple, seeking surrogacy in India shall appoint a local guardian who will be legally responsible for taking care of the surrogate during and after the pregnancy, till the child/children are delivered to the foreigner or foreign couple or the local guardian. Further, the party seeking the surrogacy must ensure and establish to the assisted reproductive technology clinic through proper documentation — a letter from either the embassy of the country in India or from the foreign ministry of the country, clearly and unambiguously stating that (a) the country permits surrogacy, and (b) the child born through surrogacy in India, will be permitted entry in the country as the biological child of the commissioning couple/individual — that the party would be able to take the child/children born through surrogacy, including where the embryo was a consequence of donation of an oocyte or sperm, outside of India to the country of the party’s origin or residence as the case may be. If the foreign party seeking surrogacy fails to take delivery of the child born to the surrogate mother commissioned by the foreign party, within one month of the birth of the child, the local guardian shall be legally obliged to take delivery of the child and be free to hand the child over to an adoption agency. During the transition period, the local guardian shall be responsible for the well-being of the child. In case of adoption or the legal guardian having to bring up the child, the child will be given Indian citizenship.’

It is therefore clear that, according to the Bill, the Rama Infertility Centre should have refused to provide a surrogate to the American citizen, unless either the American wife or the Jamaican husband provided to the clinic an appropriate certificate from the concerned authority that the child would be permitted entry into the US or Jamaica and given the nationality of one of these countries.

Recognising that infertility is the most prevalent disease in mankind and that there is tremendous scope for unethical practices in ART clinics, it becomes extremely important that the government of India passes the above-mentioned Bill on a priority basis. This is yet another example of bureaucratic delays in doing something that would be of great value to the people as, perhaps, there is no large family in India that does not have an infertile couple, and India has tremendous potential of being the infertility treatment capital of the world.

Importance of Infertility Bill. P.M. Bhargava. New Indian Express, 11th February 2012, Edit Page.

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