ART bill not queer friendly

government Health Law LGBTQIA+ National

The opposition claims that the recently passed bill in the Lok Sabha is discriminatory for LGBTQIA+ community and single men seeking fatherhood.

Queer activists say that the Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) Regulation Bill is not only discriminatory but also homophobic in nature. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) minister says that the contradiction in two existing laws is the reason for exclusion of single men.

Akassh K Aggarwal, Queer Rights Voice said, “Bills like ART are a trap.” The government is trapping and suffocating the community by such discriminating bills. The bill affects my right to equal citizenship as it is homophobic,” he said.

On Wednesday, Lok Sabha passed the ART Regulation Bill, 2020, which makes provisions for the safe and ethical practice of ART services in India.

The opposition in the parliament maintained that the bill was discriminatory for members of LGBTQIA+ community and single men as it only allows cisgender, married and live-in couples along with single females to undergo the ART process.

Dr. Heena Gavit, Member of Parliament, Nandurbar Lok Sabha Constituency and BJP National Spokesperson explained that there is a 2017 law which says that single men can’t adopt female child. This was done in consideration to a significant number of female children being exploited by them. “Determining the sex of the child is not legal in India which makes single men ineligible for ART,” she said.

Akassh added that in 2018 while scrapping Section 377, the Supreme Court in its verdict had asked the government to run gender sensitising educational programs and bring in a more inclusive policy. “This bill shows the dubious ways of the government. They only do advertising campaigns for inclusion and equality for marginalised people but on the ground level the report is completely opposite,” he said.

Dr Rima (name changed), IVF and fertility consultant at Cloudnine Fertility, Bengaluru said that banning something in not a solution. In India sex determination is banned but still patients find their way through it. “I get many patients asking for a male child and I try to counsel them. Some patients get stimulated here in the clinic and then travel to countries like Dubai, Thailand and Singapore — where sex determination is not illegal, for further treatment,” she said.

Right now it is possible for single men to go though IVF with the help of a surrogate. The clause in the said bill which makes single men ineligible for ART is unacceptable, she added.

Dr. Snigdha Das, public health consultant, with speciality in maternal and child health said that the bill needs to be strengthened down to the implementation level. Before being released by upper houses a countrywide assessment of the current practices, both legal and inappropriate, would have provided a good scenario. This assessment would have also allowed capping price in metro, tier 1,2 and 3 cities.

She raised some important questions which the bill fails to answer, “How does the country aim to register all the clinics providing ART services – utilisation of digital platform or conducting in person visits to register clinics?”

Quacks and under-skilled medical practitioners are currently utilising such opportunities to gain monetary benefits. “How would the bill ensure that only well qualified practitioners with expertise provide such services?” she asked.

Since the Surrogacy bill and ART bill are interlinked, she also highlighted the misuse of Pre-Conception & Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act, 1994, resulting in gender-based selection of embryos and human trafficking.

Dr. Rima said that a cap on the cost of the procedure would be beneficial as there are centers which can do it for very cheap and then there are the ones which want to extract as much money as they can from the patients pockets, none can be trusted, she said.

The system should be regularised, Parents should undergo counseling and it must be assessed if they are eligible to become parents. It shouldn’t matter which gender they belong to. Like in foreign countries there is a strict process for adoption where mental health professionals pay regular visits to monitor the situation. All this might be a little too early for India but outright banning is not a solution, she added.

Dr. Heena said, “This bill will bring transparency, prevent exploitation of women, prevent malpractices and bring equality in quality and services provided.”

Lesbian couples can avail the benefits. She added that, “In the Lok Sabha, the minister addressing the council had said that lesbian couples living together can avail the benefits of this bill as it is applicable for single women.”

The bill passed by the Lok Sabha on ART is an initiative by the government, towards acceptance of evolving parenthood in modern Indian society, said Dr. Snigdha.

The bill proposes a broader population that can avail the benefits of ART – as compared to Surrogacy bill 2015. Regulations are necessary, fine and imprisonment for those providing unethical services can help reduce malpractices, she added.

Akassh felt that people should interfere less in other people’s lives. “Personally, I may not believe in the institution of marriage but I won’t oppose if someone gets married.” Similarly, “I may not want ART for myself but it should not be taken away from other people of my community,” he said.

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