Surrogacy bill bother for Parsis

The country’s Parsi community is in a bind over a proposed law to regulate surrogacy, a little over a year after it had successfully negotiated resistance from within to this assisted reproductive technique.

Article in The  Telegraph

The Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2016 – that the Centre has cleared – seeks to replace commercial surrogacy with an altruistic alternative but permits only “close relatives” to become surrogate mothers.

The Parsis are an ageing community with a below one total fertility rate (TFR), which means that on average a Parsi woman has less than one child. According to a study done by the ministry of minority affairs, 30 per cent of Parsis have never married and 31 per cent are over 60. Only one family in nine has a child below the age of 10. The community numbers around 69,000 across the country.

Such being the demographics, most Parsis in the childbearing age now don’t have siblings, and women relatives in the family will, in all likelihood, be older. Thus the proposed law practically forecloses the surrogacy option for most Parsis, said a member of the community.

Parsis had adopted surrogacy as an option last year under the Centre’s Jiyo Parsi initiative to contain their population decline. Two couples have enrolled under the scheme and, in both cases, two Parsi women outside their families are the surrogates.

Asked how the proposed law would impact the Jiyo Parsi initiative, Shernaz Cama, a member of the team that oversees the programme, said it was “still a bill” and the government had asked people for their feedback.

“We are having a meeting in Mumbai early next month to discuss the issue, among other things. We will present our views to the government after discussing the issue with all stakeholders, advocacy groups and doctors,” Cama told The Telegraph.

Asked if the government had held discussions with the community or the Jiyo Parsi team while drafting the bill, she answered in the negative.

Surrogacy was included as an assisted reproductive technique (ART) option under the Jiyo Parsi scheme 15 months ago after the community shed its reservations about the procedure. Some of the more orthodox sections had opposed surrogacy on the ground that it was against their faith to have the foetus grow in somebody else’s womb but doctors within the community managed to get them around.

Parsis are a patrilineal community with a fair incidence of “out-marriages” – marriages outside the community. Studies by the National Commission for Minorities, the Tata Institute of Social Sciences and the Parzor Foundation, which works to preserve the Parsi-Zoroastrian heritage, have cited out-marriages as a reason for the community’s dwindling numbers.

If a Parsi girl weds outside the community, her child is not included in the fold but if a Parsi boy weds a non-Parsi girl, their child is accepted as a Parsi.

The 2001 census – when a head count of the community was taken for the first time after Independence instead of it just being counted among other religions and persuasions – was a wake-up call for the Parsis, who were down to 69,601, a 40 per cent decline from 1941, when they numbered 1.14 lakh.

Over a decade later, in 2013, the UPA government decided to intervene and conceived of the Jiyo Parsi scheme. Under this scheme, Parsi couples are provided up to Rs 5 lakh for ART and fertility treatment.