Bill lacks clarity on altruistic surrogacy: Author Pinki Virani

New Delhi, Sep 19 Author and journalist Pinki Virani's recent book "Politics of the Womb: The Perils of IVF, Surrogacy and Modified Babies" grabbed headlines for its exposé of the unscrupulous practices involved in the business of "baby-making".


The book, dealing with commercial surrogacy, egg-trafficking and in-vitro fertilisation, published by Penguin Random House, assumes significance as it comes close on the heels of the Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill 2016, approved by the cabinet in August.

The Bill had sparked a controversy as it bans commercial surrogacy, permitting only altruistic surrogacy by close relatives, for childless couples.

Virani, in an emailed interview, discusses the shortcomings of the Bill and the need for an unbending ART (Assisted Reproduction Technology) Act to rein in the infertility industry.

Excerpts from an interview with IANS:

Q: Is the new Surrogacy Bill (2016) needed? What are the inadequacies in the Bill in its current form?

A: I have identified four areas of concern and sent to appropriate authorities a detailed note, which has been acknowledged. Broadly speaking, the altruistic surrogate needs more protection. The stipulation of "close relative" needs re-defining. There is not enough clarity on whose genes -- whose egg and sperm -- will result in that IVF-made embryo to be inserted into the surrogate. The Surrogacy Bill 2016 (after addressing these concerns) and answering requirements to protect the altruistic surrogate is "welcome".

Q: The Health Ministry is going to release a draft ART Bill soon. Since IVF is a booming business in India, do you think the government can crack down on this influential lobby? What are your suggestions for the proposed ART Act?

A: There is no point in any Act, no matter how precisely structured, if the government of the time does not act upon it. And with this lobby -- it will really need to walk the talk. The book has a detailed chapter on what must necessarily be part of such a law. Those points were sent to appropriate authorities when I was writing the book.

Q: Have these suggestions been taken into account? What were some of the finer points in your suggestions?

A: Talking from my experience, nothing is confirmed until Parliament passes any Bill to be an Act. Thereafter, there is the framing of rules and regulations around it. Broadly speaking, the book calls for an urgent end to all commercial third-party reproduction across the world. This means disallowing of oocyte-sales and sperm-sales. Almost all countries in the world -- which value women's rights and want to protect children as their future citizens -- do not allow commercial surrogacy. India is among the last to ban it.

Q: The book reveals how a woman's body is abused due to heavy medication, the painful procedure of IVF and its failure rates. No one seems to be bothered about what happens to the woman herself, either during the process or after.

A: She -- and the unborn -- are the reason "Politics of the Womb" is the first book of its kind in international publishing. It became very important, as the research progressed and the evidence mounted, that everything -- no matter how medically-obfuscating -- be seen from their point of view.

Q: What made you write the book?

A: I find myself still researching and if I continue, 2017 will make it a decade of research. In these weeks (post-Bill), there were two significant studies. One reaffirms the chapter in the book on babies being born through women made into "IVF packages" and put through no-medical-emergency caesarean operations. Such babies have a significantly higher risk of obesity and asthma.

The other study has the lead scientist pointing out that the world knows more of what goes into jars of peanut butter than into "culture media" -- the manufactured liquids with which the in-vitro industry works to produce embryos.

Q: You also raise a red flag on freezing eggs which some women are choosing in case there may be a late-marriage or as in pre-cancer treatment. Now that some corporates (Apple and Facebook) are also pushing it, what is the socio-economic impact?

A: Corporates giving perks does not mean they can insist upon a woman employee to delay childbirth if she prefers to have her baby within the safe-age period -- 35 years. Her entitlement would be the same.

Egg-freezing in itself is not easy, nor as effective, as it is cracked up to be by those offering freeze-thaw facilities at exorbitant rates. Women choosing to freeze their eggs may please keep in mind that there is a "hidden" cell-by-date. It is compulsorily needed to be followed by IVF, perhaps even aggressive-IVF (process), which comes with its own dangers of deformities and disorders.


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