In the womb of controversy
CHENNAI: As high drama is being played out in Indian courts over surrogacy issues, the US consulate in Chennai, perhaps worried about the rash of litigations, has decided to tighten its visa processing norms, particularly for couples coming to the city for fertility treatment and assisted reproduction.
About a month ago, Vimala (name changed), a US citizen, returning home after delivering a healthy baby boy, was put through a grilling at the US consulate in Chennai when she went to obtain a passport for her new-born. On learning that she had conceived the child with the help of donor eggs (through assisted reproduction by transfer of eggs or oocytes donated by another woman), the consulate declined to recognise her as the biological mother.
"The father's name and mother's name are mentioned in the consular report of birth. This certificate is issued to recognise a US citizen child born outside the country. But the certificate for my son does not list me as the mother. I had to go through a lawyer to process adoption in the US and get the certificate amended to incorporate my name," Vimala said in a communication to her doctor.
The incident triggered protests among a section of fertility experts in Chennai and kicked off a debate on personal privacy and patient confidentiality and the need for laws. "The laws in India and those of countries from where patients come for treatment should be made clear. Our guidelines state that a surrogate mother gives a written undertaking relinquishing all rights over the child, and the same applies to an egg donor as well," pointed out Dr Priya Selvaraj of the Chennai-based GG hospital.
Dr Falguni Bavishi of the Ahmedabad-based Bavishi Fertility Institute insisted that none of her patients, five so far from the US and who delivered through donor eggs, faced 'harassment' at the consulate. "We made it clear to the consulate that the delivery was through egg donation," she said.
With the Assisted Reproductive Technology (Regulation) Bill 2008 still in the cans, India's stand on issues relating to surrogacy remains a set of guidelines on paper. Said Dr PM Bhargava, the chief architect of the Bill and former member of National Knowledge Commission: "The draft bill clearly says that if anyone from outside the country wishes to have a child using ART procedure, they have to produce evidence that they can take back the child without problems."
According to Bhargava, one of the architects of the Bill, issues relating to surrogacy have been addressed in the proposed legislation. "We had foreseen problems like this (the legal tussle between divorced Japanese parents and their daughter Manjhi Yamada, born from an Indian surrogate mother and the case of the German couple fighting for citizenship for their twins)," he said.
In the case of the German couple, the Supreme Court has suggested that adoption would be the only way out for their surrogate twins.
Authorities in Germany, which does not recognise surrogacy, were willing to consider their application for a temporary visa for the twins for initiation of adoption process.
US consulate officials declined to comment, merely citing the US Federal statutes governing acquisition of US citizenship by birth abroad to a US citizen parent. Section 7 FAM 1131.4-2 (Citizenship in Artificial and In Vitro Insemination Cases) states that "a child born abroad to a surrogate mother who is the blood mother (that is, who was the egg-donor) and whose father was a US citizen is treated for citizenship purposes as a child born out of wedlock".
But with the ART bill gathering dust and India emerging as a major hub for transcultural surrogacy, the country could well see more cases like that of Jan Balaz and Susan Lohle, the German couple battling to save their surrogate twins from becoming stateless citizens.