Reproductive tech Bill: Oppn welcomes regulation, but flags exclusion of single men, LGBTQ people

Opposition members in Lok Sabha Wednesday attacked the government for excluding live-in couples, single men and the LGBTQ community from the ambit of the Assisted Reproductive Technology (Regulation) Bill, 2021, attacking the legislation as “discriminatory” and “patriarchal”.

Congress member Karti P Chidambaram, who opened the debate on the Bill, said: “This law is not a Hindu law, it is actually a Victorian law.”

He invoked the Mahabharata and the Puranas several times, saying: “Our epics have so many instances of unconventional births.”

“This law has not come from the Hindu liberal traditions. This law has come from the completely regressive, Victorian, and colonial mindset. I will tell you why. This law excludes many people, rather than it includes. When I have given you so many instances of unconventional births and unconventional unions in our Hindu epics, this law only allows married people to have access to this technology. It does not allow LGBTQ people to have access to this technology. It does not allow single men to have access to this technology,” Karti Chidambaram said adding that the bill is “discriminatory”.

Karti said: “This law does not take into account the new realities of India. Of course, these new realities are not new realities. These were there in our ancient scriptures. Those unions which were always there, were suppressed by the colonial mentality. These unions must also be given access to this technology. The LGBTQ population, live-in couples, and single men must also have access to this technology if they want so.”

Describing the bill as “patriarchal”, Karti said: “That is again a hallmark of this government. A person who is capable of donating an egg, has to be married and has to have a child who is at least three years old; only then can she become a donor. A single woman cannot be a donor. Again, this reeks of patriarchy.”

“So, do not ever say that you are a government which is actually propagating Hindu values. The Hindu values are liberal values. You are, in fact, propagating a Victorian colonial value,” said Karti, who represents Sivaganga constituency in Tamil Nadu.

“This is a government which professes to draw inspiration from our puranas, from our ithigaasam (history), and from our epics,” Karti said, referring to the Prime Minister’s remarks about evidence of plastic surgery and Ganesha having an elephant head.

He also raised questions about provisions related to maintaining the privacy of donors. “You want the Aadhaar card for the donor because you want to identify the donor through that Aadhaar card. But the donor has to be anonymous. What if there is a leak of data,” he asked.

During the debate on the bill, the House remained in order and saw no disruption.

Supporting the Bill, Hina V Gavit of BJP said assisted reproductive technology has remained unregularised for a long time in the country.

“Initially, assisted reproductive technology came on humanitarian ground to assist those couples who are infertile and who cannot have their own children. But, unfortunately, over a period of time, a lot of commercialisation has taken place. Hence, we need the regulation of the Bill,” said Gavit, who represents Nandurbar constituency in Maharashtra.

Gavit also said celebrities and the rich “misuse” surrogacy.

“We see these days a lot of celebrities using surrogacy to have children and many celebrities who have already had their biological children are also going for these surrogacy. This Bill will definitely ensure that people who are in need, the couples who are infertile, can avail the benefits of ART and just because somebody has lots of money and does not want to carry a pregnancy can go for this. I think these things will also be checked upon by this bill,” Gavit said.

Gavit suggested that instead of having a medical practitioner as one of the members of the board under Section 12 of the Bill, an eminent gynecologist or an obstetrician should be included.

Dr Gautham Sigamani Pon of DMK spoke about the powers provided to the national and state boards under the Bill.

“As a DMK member I am concerned about the state powers… The present government has taken the sole responsibility of regulating the emerging field. This obsession of this government is very established now,” said the MP, who represents Kallakurichi seat in Tamil Nadu.

TMC’s Dr Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar (Barasat, West Bengal) said that the country had been waiting for a long time for legislation on assisted reproductive technology because nearly 60 million people in the country suffered from infertility. She, too, highlighted the exclusion of single parents and LGBTQ persons from the purview of the Bill.

“The major exclusion here is exclusion of single parents, transgenders and LGBT couples… They also have a right to become parents…,” Dastidar said.

She said the Bill supports large companies.

“They have come into India, mostly international corporates. It will support them because the international corporates, they will be using foolhardy gullible patients…,” Dastidar said.

“So, the honorable minister should give a thought to the things that I have been speaking about and this Bill has to be changed completely. It has to go to scrutiny.

“The board must be manned by the people who know the subject; the bank has to be completely abolished unless it is associated with an IVF laboratory and manned by the people who actually know the subject,” the MP said.

Dr B V Satyavathi of YSRCP welcomed the legislation and said it would bring about the registration of all such clinics.

Dr Alok Kumar Suman of JD (U), who represents Gopalganj in Bihar, said the Bill is an important step for the welfare of women. Suman suggested that the cost of ART should be regulated effectively so that the common people can avail of the technology.

BSP’s Sangeeta Azad (Lalganj, Uttar Pradesh) said that the Bill would be an effective step in prohibiting illegal trade in the field of surrogacy and ending social malpractices. But she, too, highlighted that the Bill does not allow LGBTQ persons to avail of ART.

“The bill only allows use of ART by heterosexual married couples and women above the age of marriage but it excludes single men, homosexual couples and LGBTQ people and couples from availing the ART. This is in violation of the Article 14 of the Constitution of India and the right to privacy determined by the Supreme Court in the Puttaswamy case,” Azad said.

Supriya Sule of the NCP (Baramati, Maharashtra) wanted to ask the Health Minister how the Surrogacy Bill and the ART Bill would complement each other.

“Besides the couples who want children, there is a cross-section of single people in this country today who want to have children, especially the LGBTQ community and single fathers… Because of the 2017 adoption rule, single men cannot adopt a girl and because they can not have this, they can not avail this Bill. I think this is something we as a society need to introspect on,” Sule said.

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