India Bars Same-Sex Couples From Using Surrogates

by Jason St. Amand

National News Editor

Wednesday January 23, 2013

Officials from India's government announced that gay couples and single individuals from other countries who wish to start a family are prohibited from using the country's popular surrogate program, New Delhi Television Limited reports.

India's surrogacy program is a growing industry. Over the past few years, foreign couples, both gay and straight, have taken advantage of the country's low-cost and legally simple way to access a surrogate. The new measure, however, not only bars same-sex couples from using the surrogates but also leaves gay couples who already started the process in limbo.

The new rules state that only straight couples who have been married for more than two years can use India's surrogacy program. Notified by the change from a message on the Indian Home Ministry's website, fertility clinics and LGBT rights activists termed the move "discriminatory".

"It's totally unfair - not only for gay people but for people who are not married who may have been living together for years and for singles," Mumbai gay rights advocate Nitin Karani said.

"Parenting is everybody's right and now we're withdrawing that right," Dr. Rita Bakshi, who is the head of the International Fertility Centre in New Delhi, said. "These rules are definitely not welcome, definitely restrictive and very discriminatory."

"This is a huge heartbreak for homosexual couples and singles," fertility doctor Anoop Gupta added.

Same-sex relations in India were criminalized until 2009 and the country does not have anti-discrimination laws that protect members of the LGBT community. Additionally, same-sex marriage is not recognized.

The article also noted that the new rules state the couples looking to use the surrogate program now must apply for a medical visa instead of a tourist visa. The Home Ministry refused to comment on the controversial rule change. It should be noted the measure has yet been approved by Parliament.

The growing use of surrogate mothers in India by Westerners has come in for criticism as exploitation. A 2010 article in Slate was one of several that have examined the practice as an outgrowth of the boom in outsourcing. The article maintained that Indian women were not fully informed about the consequences of surrogacy and that these it was economic circumstances that forced women into surrogacy.

Since 2002, when India legalized surrogacy, the practice has, in the words of a 2011 New York Times article, become "a key part of the country's lucrative medical tourism market." The cost is only about $14,000, compared to $70,000 in the U.S. The Times cited a 2008 study that estimated surrogacy was bringing $450 million a year into the Indian economy.

One Indian doctor complained that Indian surrogates were treated "like an object, used her as a factory." The article also noted, however, that desperately poor women can make much more than they would could hope to earn at a job.

"Risks?" asked a Delhi woman quoted in the Times article. "What risks? Any fool can have a baby, it takes a smart woman to get paid for it." The article also pointed out side benefits to the Indian economy. Couples awaiting a child often spend several months there.

Commenters on surrogacy blogsite claimed that the U.S. Embassy was working with the government to clarify the rules and that the Home Ministry was, in fact, blindsided by the rule, which, some sources say, was the work of a "rogue bureaucrat in Delhi and the Indian clinics are all united in working with the Government of India to try to get this offending notification abrogated."

Commenters also pointed out that the medical industry, which generally supports surrogacy, is actively seeking to nullify the edict. One outlet, Indian Economy, reported that the rules have "ignited a storm of criticism."

One thing all sides can agree on is that surrogacy, a relatively recent medical procedure, is an example (one among many) where science has overtaken law. A blogger for the Times of India suggested that the Home Ministry slow down and have public hearings before a final ruling.

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