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Embryo import curb call

The Supreme Court today suggested that the government put on hold human embryo imports as India had become an international hub for commercial surrogacy, with the business estimated at $445 million (Rs 2,900cr) annually.

By Our Legal Correspondent
  • Published 15.10.15
  •  

New Delhi, Oct. 14: The Supreme Court today suggested that the government put on hold human embryo imports as India had become an international hub for commercial surrogacy, with the business estimated at $445 million (Rs 2,900cr) annually.

The court granted the government time till October 28 to clarify its stand after the Centre said a bill on the issue could be finalised in three months.

The court agreed with the contention, raised in a PIL by advocate Jayashree Wad, that commercial surrogacy had become rampant and needed to be regulated by law.

A bench of Justices Ranjan Gogoi and N.V. Ramana told solicitor-general Ranjit Kumar that it expected the Centre to come out with an act to regulate the trade and warned that the court would be constrained to pass directions if that wasn't done.

Kumar, representing the government, said a bill to regulate commercial surrogacy was at a consultative stage and may take three months before it was referred to the cabinet. The bench suggested that till then, such imports be limited to medical research. "Till you enact the legislation, confine the import of embryos only for medical research and not surrogacy."

"Obviously, you are not supposed to permit trade in human embryo so long as there is no law or legislation. But it has become a burning issue, which is now called surrogacy tourism. The fact is it is rampant. Why do you want to add to the problem by not confining it to medical research?" the bench told the solicitor-general.

The court said the issue had "far-reaching considerations" and wondered why there was no law so far. "We thought of issuing notices and inviting suggestions through all concerned apart from the MCI, NGOs and other stake holders.#Moral and ethical issues are involved. It is the primary duty of the legislature. Unfortunately, there is no response from the government or legislation. Now a situation has arisen where we are issuing directions on all issues which are in the domain of the executive. We are wondering whether we can entertain this petition and make a judicial legislation. We can't...but should we?" the bench asked.

Senior counsel Shekhar Naphade, appearing for the petitioner, cited the court's 1997 Visakha case judgment for setting up of grievance cells in all government and private offices to deal with sexual harassment complaints against women. He pointed out that it had taken 17 years for the Centre to come out with a legislation to check such harassment and said it would take decades for a law on commercial surrogacy.

Kumar replied that several stakeholders had to be consulted as the issue was a state subject, adding Ranjit Kumar said "A bill for the purpose of putting in a proper legislation for taking care of the issue is under consideration at an advanced stage. But it is at a consultation stage. Once it is over, it would go for cabinet clearance and then to Parliament. The process would be over in three months.

Naphade countered this by asking that if it was a state subject, why had the Centre issued a notification on December 2, 2013, permitting import of human embryos. "You (the Centre) remove the notification. That will take care of the problem."

Though the solicitor-general sought a short adjournment, the bench said it would give him longer and listed the matter for October 28 on the condition that the Centre explain its position on the twin issues - the legislation and whether embryo imports would be limited to medical research.