New Delhi: Having another woman bear a child for a couple to raise, usually with the male half of the couple as the genetic father, is referred to in antiquity. Babylonian law and custom allowed this practice and infertile woman could use the practice to avoid the divorce which would otherwise be inevitable.
Simply put, surrogacy is an arrangement in which a woman carries and delivers a child for another couple or person. This woman, the surrogate mother, may be the child’s genetic mother, also called traditional surrogacy, or she may be genetically unrelated to the child, also known as gestational surrogacy. If the surrogate receives compensation beyond the reimbursement of medical and other reasonable expenses, the arrangement is called commercial surrogacy, otherwise it is often referred to as altruistic surrogacy.
Many countries like US and European countries have banned surrogacy in their country. However, there are no laws against surrogacy in India. There are moves to make it more legalised through new bills, which may take some time. This is to protect the rights of the child and the surrogate mother. As of now there are no laws binding it in India. However, the Indian government is working on drafting a new law to police surrogate pregnancies amid fears that the country’s booming rent-a-womb industry is running out of control. A new trend shows that even during the time of recession, many young and educated women turned to surrogacy as their side profession.
In the United States, the issue of surrogacy was widely publicised in the case of Baby M, in which the surrogate and biological mother of Melissa Stern (“Baby M”), born in 1986, refused to cede custody of Melissa to the couple with whom she had made the surrogacy agreement. The courts of New Jersey found that Mary Beth Whitehead was the child’s legal mother and declared contracts for surrogate motherhood illegal and invalid. However, the court found it in the best interests of the infant to award custody of Melissa to her biological father William Stern and his wife Elizabeth Stern, rather than to the surrogate mother Mary Beth Whitehead.
Interestingly, there have been cases of clashes between surrogate mothers and the genetic parents; when unexpected complications with the fetus makes the genetic parents ask for an abortion even though the surrogate mother is opposing the abortion.
Studies of surrogates have shown that they engage in various distancing techniques throughout the surrogate pregnancy so as to ensure that they do not become emotionally attached to the baby. Many surrogates intentionally try to foster the development of emotional attachment between the intended mother and the surrogate child. Instead of the popular expectation that surrogates feel traumatised after relinquishment, an overwhelming majority describe feeling empowered by their surrogacy experience.