A Cabinet meeting has passed the proposal tabled by the Ministry of Health and Population, opening the door to foreign couples to have babies through surrogacy in the country.
Surrogacy is a process where people wanting babies pay for another women to have their baby delivered. Doctors say two methods—traditional and gestational—are presently followed for surrogacy. In traditional method, the sperm is artificially inseminated in the mother’s womb who goes on to deliver baby on behalf of the couple while in a relatively advance gestational method, the sperm and egg from a father and mother is first fertilised through In-Vitro Fertilisation and the embryo is placed in the surrogate mother’s womb.
The decision is likely to attract foreign couples who prefer to give birth in Nepal since the country is considered a ‘safe and cheap’ destination. At a time when the Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) Bill to tighten surragacy is on the table at the Parliament of India, willing couples now have the option to give birth in Nepal.
Dr Guna Raj Lohani, chief of curative division said that they have developed a work-plan following the cabinet decision to ease the visa process, adding that a foreigner willing to give birth through surrogacy has to furnish documents that the sperm and ovum of the respective parents have been fertilised and that the embryo is implanted inside the woman’s womb. “Once the required documents are in place, we provide an official recognition to the baby,” said Dr Lohani. The birth certificate of an individual without citizenship has to be verified by the ministry before issuing a letter to the Department of Consular Services for visa purpose.
Officials at the ministry say that at least five certificates of babies born through surrogate mothers, a majority of them hired by Israeli parents, have been verified before the rule came into existence. “We stopped issuing such letters after we learnt about the surrogacy practices in the country,” said a ministry official.
According to Dr Lohani, a majority of the foreigners had hired surrogate mothers from India before the babies were delivered in Nepali hospitals. But some say Nepalis take surrogate mothers to India for delivery for fear of social stigma. Sources claim that Nepali surrogate mothers are paid between Rs 300,000 and Rs 400,000 for delivering a baby while the rate for Indian women ranges from $6,000 to $10,000.
The issue of surrogacy in Nepal first came to the fore in March 2011 after a case was filed at the Kathmandu District Court over the property rights of a baby delivered through surrogate mother. The court had ruled that the child “is equally entitled to inherit parental property.”
The ministry is working to develop an Act or Directive on surrogacy. Chief of Law section at the ministry, Babu Kaji Baniya, said that legalising surrogacy itself has been disputed in several countries. “We are working to develop a law on the issue in order to strictly regulate our health system,” said Baniya.
Dr Bhola Rijal of Om Hospital warned that given the poor government regulation, Nepal might develop into a hub for commercial surrogacy.
“It was only after the Indian government imposed a ban to use surrogate mother that many such centres popped up in the Valley,” said Dr Rijal. “The government has to be clear as to who can deliver baby from surrogate mothers.”