Another heartbreaking Indian surrogacy controversy, this time involving two Canadian doctors, was revealed by the Toronto Star this week. The couple received a devastating shock when they applied for Canadian passports for what they believed were their twins borne by an Indian surrogate. A DNA test ordered by the Canadian high commission in New Delhi revealed the twins were not related to the Canadian couple – or to the birth mother – but were the product of fertilised eggs from an unknown mother and father.
The doctors left India childless and the twins may spend their childhood in an orphanage.
The number of Australians hiring surrogates in India has been rising and officials admit privately they are concerned that something similar could go wrong for an Australian couple. There are more than 1000 IVF clinics in India, but no laws govern assisted reproductive technology (ART), which includes surrogacy, and no watchdog has been authorised to police it. “Most of the ART clinics in this country are not following these guidelines because they do not have any legal strength,” said R. S. Sharma, the deputy director-general in the division of reproductive health and nutrition at the Indian Council of Medical Research.
A surrogacy debacle that left a Japanese baby stranded in India in 2008 increased pressure on the government to tighten its surrogacy rules. The child’s parents hired an Indian surrogate mother but divorced during the pregnancy. The Japanese mother-to-be disowned the baby and Indian law prevented the single father from claiming the child. It took nearly six months of legal wrangling before an Indian court finally allowed the baby, called Manji, to leave India with her biological grandmother.
A bill to govern assisted reproductive technology and surrogacy has been drafted but, as the Herald reported on Monday, it threatens to make it much harder, and maybe impossible, for Australian couples to hire Indian surrogates. Under the proposed law, a foreign couple wanting to enter an agreement with an Indian surrogate would need a written guarantee of citizenship for the child from their government.
In a response to questions from the Herald the Australia High Commission said it expected Indian laws to change in response to the growing demand for surrogacy. ”Any changes to legislation in India could impact on eligibility for Australian citizenship,” the statement said. The Indian legislation would also prohibit gay couples from hiring surrogates unless local laws change to recognise same-sex relationships.