Image courtesy of NPR

Image courtesy of NPR

India has emerged as the world’s “surrogacy hub”. Infertile couples and, increasingly, gay couples and single women from different countries are paying Indian women to carry their embryos through to birth. While the surrogacy industry in India is extremely lucrative (worth more than $2.3 billion per year), the government has failed to regulate the practice since it became legal in 2002, leading to the adoption of unethical practices that put both surrogates and the babies they deliver at risk.

In an effort to protect Indian women from exploitation, the Indian government has introduced Surrogacy Bill 2016, which the Union Cabinet passed in late-August. If approved by Parliament, the law would completely ban commercial surrogacy, but would leave the door open for altruistic surrogacy – where no money is exchanged between the birthing mother and the commissioning parents. The bill has sparked a debate in India as to whether a complete ban on commercial surrogacy is the right way to protect women who act as surrogates from exploitation.

On the one hand, numerous troubling practices currently take place in the context of India’s surrogacy industry:

On the other hand, critics have a number of concerns about the ban, including:

Commercial surrogacy is a complex issue and the debate around the role of law and policy in this context, both in India and other parts of the world, is clearly far from over.