Monday, March 25, 2013

ICMR has not delayed surrogacy law: RS Sharma

Aloke Tikku, Hindustan Times
March 25, 2013

India has been the centre of global attention after a home ministry visa rule prohibiting single and gay foreigners from entering the country to commission surrogate mothers became public. The rule was notified since India does not have any legally-enforceable provision to regulate surrogacy. Dr 
RS Sharma, deputy director general (senior grade) and member secretary, Drafting Committee, ART (Regulation) Bill,  Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) spoke with Aloke Tikku on a wide range of issues, including the steps taken by the council to finalise the draft Bill to regulate surrogacy. Excerpts:
The ICMR seems to have been working on the assisted reproductive technologies (regulation) Bill for far too long, some say a decade. Why?
That isn't true. It was in 2000 that the then ICMR director-general decided that we should have a standard for IVF (in-vitro fertilization) clinics in the form of national guidelines. A committee of experts developed the first draft of national guidelines in 2002 which was extensively discussed and debated. This document was published as national guidelines for accreditation, supervision and regulation of ART clinics in India in 2005 and circulated to all the states with a request to follow these guidelines in their respective states.
But the health ministry concluded sometime in 2006 that the implementation feedback from the states was not positive and decided to develop a new law in this area.
Since drafting a law was a new area for this organisation, we constituted a group of experts who prepared the first draft in 2008, another in 2009 and the final draft towards the end of 2010. This draft Bill is under evaluation and examination by the ministry of law and justice currently.
What kind of a timeline do you have for the draft legislation to be introduced in Parliament?
I cannot respond to this question. We are doing our job and we would like this as early as possible.
How would the ART law help improve the situation?
Once the law comes, I believe the quality of services would improve drastically. Whatever we are hearing - that there is some violation of ethical and medical norms - it would stop. Today, there is no provision of penalty or punishment for unethical practices.
Is there an official estimate about the number of ART clinics or the size of the industry?
There are no firm numbers. We are in the process of developing a central database on the directions of the health ministry to determine the number and nature of services that such clinics provide.
We estimated about 200 clinics in 2002. Today, we have identified over 1100 IVF clinics from public sources. Of them, 600 clinics have confirmed they are either working as IVF clinic or as ART bank. This number is increasing every day.
There is a view in, and outside the home ministry that allowing gays and single foreigners to commission surrogacy could transform India into a hub of surrogacy. This section believes this may not be desirable. What is ICMR's perspective?
I don't think we will make India a hub of surrogacy. There is provision for commercial surrogacy in the draft bill but our bill does not permit commercialisation of surrogacy. There is a line. Beyond this, you cannot go.
My view is that people are coming to this country because quality of services provided in the country is quite good and few clinics are very good, it is quite economic as compared to the west. India, after all, is pioneer in IVF but unfortunately, we lost out. The second test-tube baby in the world was born in India, just about 70 days after the first. And the technology used for this by Late Dr Subhas Mukherjee was much more advanced.
We had the technology but because of our social and cultural belief, we could not pursue this science.
But today, we have world class doctors and scientists so foreigners are coming. Services are very good, they are economical. Then how you can stop them. That is our point.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post. It seems fair and balanced reporting. Yet, it does little to resolve present uncertainities created by the new directives regarding the issue of medical surrogacy visas. Hopefully, in recognition of the medical realities, the FRRO and other concerned authorities will be practical in the application of the new rules - and those who are already undergoing fertility treatment or have surrogacy procedures underway will be given relief.

Anonymous said...

Confused Indian bureaucrat. Nothing new here. Move along.

Anonymous said...

For those not familiar with the ICMR proposals, please see :

Guidelines for ART Clinics in India ICMR

Many will find them reassuring.

The Visa regime just announced however is far from consistent with these Guidelines. It's a bit of an over-shoot. The new rules reflect intense pressures on the government from domestic critics, women's groups, human rights activists, social conservatives, religious groups, etc., amid hyped media reporting.

That said, the ICMR Guidelines are far from being enacted into law. The fragile state of the Indian coalition government does not hold much promise for immediate pathbreaking legislation

This is a tragedy for many IP's.

Sustained pressure from ART clinics and others drawing attention to the very real inequity, hardship and trauma linked with a discontinuation of expensive and painful fertility treatment and/or surrogacy procedures, which for many IP's have been going on for years should hopefully lead to some relaxation in the application of the new rules. The human cost is unthinkable otherwise. It might serve as well to ward off needlessly complicated legal and diplomatic face-offs.


K. said...

I feel kind of stupid because I really have no idea what the point of this article was? Am I just having a blonde moment???

Ahli said...

Hi Meg,

"I don't think we will make India a hub of surrogacy. There is provision for commercial surrogacy in the draft bill but our bill does not permit commercialisation of surrogacy."

Is Sharma saying that commercial surrogacy will not be an option for anyone in the future in India? They are seriously shooting themselves in the foot! The IVF treatment costs can't be much cheaper than western countries when you add on flights and accommodation, plus loss of wages and other living expenses. I don't think India will thrive on this alone.

rosie said...

i had my treatment cancelled due to these laws as ireland isnt giving medical visas, my flights and hotel bookings are lost and we dont know what is happening, its just awful :( we are a married couple of 18yrs of infertility who thought our heartbreak was coming to a end soon only to have our dreams crushed once again.

Amani (Meg) said...

Ahli, the Bill doesn't ban commercial surrogacy, it includes provisions for payment to surrogates.

Anonymous said...

Rosie, my heart goes out to you.
This is terrible news ! We all hope clarifications will be forthcoming and the new rules relaxed somewhat. Is your clinic batting for you ?

May I ask why are you being declined a medical visa ? Is it because Ireland does not confer automatic citizenship on genetically-linked babies born overseas ? The more we understand the situation the more we will be able to respond appropriately.

With regards to the article about the ICMR, with all the news about the new rules, it seems the reporter wanted to get an official body to respond. I am sure the replies were guarded and the reporting likely self-censured. The ICMR is not a decision making body, yet, we can be sure, its opinion is sought by decision makers. It's proposals aim to add ethical and procedural elements to the complicated business of surrogacy. Meg is right, commercial surrogacy is not prohibited. Indeed, the most positive takeaway is that the new rules are not consistent with ICMR proposal and need to be relaxed.