The Lok Sabha on Wednesday passed a long awaited bill to regulate and supervise assisted reproductive technology(ART) clinics and to establish a national registry and registration authority in the country which is emerging as a major centre in the multi-million dollar fertility services industry.
The Assisted Reproductive Technology (Regulation) Bill, 2021 provides for penal provisions with offences punishable with hefty fines and tougher sentences(8 to 12 years).
The bill to regulate clinics offering fertility treatments was first presented publicly in 2008 also provides for punishment to those involved in trafficking and sale of embryos.
Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya said many ART clinics have been running in the country without regulation and a need was felt to regulate them as there are implications on the health of those who undertake the procedure.
“We cannot allow unethical practices.Those who are involved in unethical practices must be punished,” he said while moving the Bill for passage and consideration of the House.
“We don’t want the Assisted Reproductive Technology to become an industry.”
ART relates to a range of medical interventions that help in reproduction, including procedures such as in-vitro fertilisation and oocyte donation.
The Bill, which envisages prevention of misuse, and safe and ethical practice of assisted ART services, also seeks to set minimum standards and code of conduct for fertility clinics and egg or sperm banks.
It was passed by voice vote after a discussion during which various members urged the government not to exclude single parents and lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender(LGBTQ) community from using the ART procedure.
According to PRS India, a legislative think-tank, the bill introduced last year had provisions that offences will be punishable with a fine between Rs 5 and Rs 10 lakh for the first contravention. For subsequent contraventions, these offences will be punishable with imprisonment for a term between eight and 12 years, and a fine between Rs 10 and Rs 20 lakh, the bill’s provisions state.
Any clinic or bank advertising or offering sex-selective ART will be punishable with imprisonment between five and ten years, or fine between Rs 10 lakh and Rs 25 lakh, or both, the bill’s provisions state, according to PRS India.
Some members also said since a bill on surrogacy is pending in the Rajya Sabha and the two draft legislations are inter-linked, both should be passed together.
During the discussion, RSP’s N K Premachandran raised a point of order on an issue related to the ART bill which is dependent upon another bill.
“Surrogacy bill is pending in the Upper House, that has not been passed. How can this House pass a law that is depending upon another law… My point is that this bill cannot be taken into consideration, this bill cannot be discussed,” he said.
Responding to this, Minister Mandaviya said the surrogacy bill was already passed in the Lok Sabha and now it is in the Rajya Sabha, and immediately after that “we brought this ART bill” and both the bills would now be taken up in the Upper House together.
Speaker Om Birla ruled that since the surrogacy bill is not pending in the Lok Sabha, the ART bill can be taken up and passed by the Lower House.
Minister Mandaviya also said a single mother can avail the “benefit” of the proposed ART law.
Responding to a demand by a member that single men should be allowed to use the procedure, he said the matter relates to the overall development of the child.
During the discussion, BSP’s Sangeeta Azad and TMC’s Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar raised the issue of exclusion of single parents and the LGBTQ community from using this procedure. “They have a right to be parents too,” they said.
Welcoming the bill, NCP’s Supriya Sule said that besides couples, there are a cross-section of people in this country who want to have a child, especially the LGBTQ community and single men.
She said that because of adoption rules of 2017, single men cannot adopt a girl and that is why they cannot avail of this bill’s benefits.
“This is something we, as a society, need to introspect… I think we should not deprive any human being who deserves or wants to have a child. Why do we not put all the bright minds together… and see how we can make sure that everybody can make use of all legislations we make,” Sule said.
Mandaviya also moved various amendments to the bill based on recommendations made by a parliamentary committee.
Earlier while moving the bill, Mandaviya said it was tabled in the Lok Sabha in September, 2020, and the Lower House had referred it to a standing committee.
Many suggestions came from the the standing committee and the government considered them, he said.
Initiating the discussion on the bill, Congress’ Karti Chidambaram said this law is Victorian as it is not all encompassing.
The bill excludes those who cannot afford this expensive procedure for a baby and the government should consider supporting poor, childless parents for taking ART’s help, Chidambaram said.
He also suggested that the government consider including LGBTQ in the bill’s ambit.
BJP’s Heena Gavit said the bill seeks to set minimum standards and codes of conduct for fertility clinics and egg or sperm banks. It also proposes stringent punishment for those practising sex selection and sale of human embryos or gametes.
“Ensuring confidentiality of commissioning couples, women and donors will also be done under the aegis of this proposal of the Cabinet. The bill also has a provision that those involved in trafficking and sale of embryos will be fined Rs 10 lakh at first instance and in second instance, the person can be imprisoned for up to 12 years,” she added.
Dastidar, herself a specialist in the field, said experts should be involved at every level to monitor the bill’s provisions.
YSRCP’s B Venkata Satyavathi said while she and her party supported the bill, there are only six IVF centres in the government sector, while thousands exist in the private sector.
JD(U)’s Alok Kumar Suman contended that the cost of the procedure should be effectively monitored so that even the poorcan avail of its services.
BJD’s Anubhav Mohanty said the bill discriminates against the LGBTQ community.
He said the health minister should reconsider the bill and should not bring it in a hurry as there are some issues that need consideration.
Supporting the bill, BJP’s Rita Bahuguna Joshi said stringent measures are necessary to streamline things.
Leader of Congress party in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said the bill violates Article 14 of India’s constitution. He also noted that the bill is silent on the rights of children.
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