By monetising the freezing and preserving of
eggs and bargaining away the joys of a natural process for fast-tracking
careers, corporates are sending out exploitative messages
Egg, sperm and embryo banking which were alien
concepts will now enter the home and the family and will have to give rise to a
new set of laws and rights.
While policy makers have deliberated a draft
surrogacy law in Parliament in which surrogacy in India will be restricted to
infertile Indian married couples only and not include foreigners (unless the
foreigner is married to an Indian citizen), child bearing has obtained a new
international dimension. Oocyte cryopreservation or freezing of a woman’s eggs
is stated to be an option to extend fertility and delay motherhood. Silicon Valley technology giants have offered $20,000 to
both full-time and part-time women employees to freeze their eggs and $480
annually to store them in order to enable these women to focus on their careers
and delay child bearing.
New age innovation
While the Ministry of Finance allows ‘human
embryos’ frozen in liquid nitrogen in cryogenic jars to be imported subject to
a No Objection Certificate from the Indian Council of Medical Research, the
National Gamete Donation Trust in the U.K. is now the newly formed national
organisation for sperm, egg and embryo donation. It encourages ethnic minority
backgrounds to choose from a variety of ‘culturally matched donors’ and
proposes to ‘change the face’ of sperm donation in Britain.
What started as a technique for freezing female
eggs to enable women with cancer to store eggs prior to chemotherapy has now
become a service perquisite. A woman can freeze her eggs to promote her career
and climb the corporate ladder by deferring motherhood. In another dimension,
posthumous impregnation and creation of babies by assisted and collaborative
modern techniques such as in-vitrio fertilisation or cryopreservation of
gametes and eggs may evoke strong notions about life, parenthood and
immortality. Such posthumous artificial reproduction has given rise to legal
issues that current outdated laws cannot address. Banking is no longer
associated with just money but with sperms and eggs as well.
A volley of arguments has followed the offers of
freezing embryos to postpone motherhood. These range from the risks of
tampering with the order of nature, unwarranted interference between a woman
and motherhood, subjecting the woman to health risks, expensive time-consuming medical
procedures and promising ‘fertility insurance’, and deferring child birth plans
with assured career progression. Now the reality is that overworked
professionals who have no time for natural procreation and are temporarily
residing in different international locations are conveniently using such
techniques since they are physically apart at the time of conception. Families
are thus sought to be designed in frozen frames for couples who are
career-minded. Invention has overtaken human relationships in this race. Babies
are designed and planned like careers, not for joy but for necessity.
The rights of the unborn child
While everybody talks of the rights of the
father and mother-to-be, nobody has looked at the rights of the unborn child.
Postponing conception for career advancement takes away the rights of an unborn
child. Be it a frozen embryo in a cryogenic jar or a frozen sperm or egg in a
bank, a human life may be at stake. Besides issues of morality and ethics,
there is no focus on the ‘right to life’ of an unborn child. From the
perspective of this child, his right to be born cannot be frozen once he is
meant to be procreated. For a child to be born and for him to enjoy the company
of his young parents needs determination. A child born to parents after 20
years of his frozen conception deprives him of the young companionship of his
healthy parents which he would have enjoyed, had he not been consigned to
posterity. This angle seems to have been totally ignored so far.
Egg, sperm and embryo banking which were alien
concepts will now enter the home, the bedroom and the family and will have to
give rise to a new set of laws and rights. The Kerala High Court is already
examining a case where the foster mother of a surrogate child has moved court
for maternity leave after she became a mother 20 years after marriage. She
claims all the rights of a biological mother. Issues may also arise if, after
freezing the eggs, the child is not conceived because of medical complications
or unsuccessful retrieval of eggs. There is no law which assures and guarantees
a woman who has frozen her eggs a healthy child. By offering money for freezing
and preserving eggs and bargaining away the joys of a natural process for
fast-tracking careers, these corporate organisations are sending out
exploitative signals. In the interest of nature, joyful parenting, and the
psychological welfare of an unborn child, it may be necessary to enact a law
that provides incentives and benefits for surrogates or parents who conceive
naturally. Providing leave for fertility treatments, maternity leave for foster
mothers, time for child care and adoption benefits may be feasible.
Work places could provide special rooms or play
rooms in crèches for children of working mothers. Providing yearly sabbaticals
or periods such as dies non, which do
not affect career prospects of working women, can further promote timely
parenthood without compromising professional rights.
Unless and until a clear legislative policy is
enacted, utilisation of female manpower may become a tool in the hands of
career launchers who will keep in deep freeze parental joys.
The writer is a practising Chandigarh-based
lawyer and is the principal author of International Indians and the Law 2014.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.