21 July 2010
By Sumitra Deb Roy
Surrogate Twins in No–Man’s Land
It’s a story that defies conventional norms and seeks to redefine questions of law and ethics across boundaries. An unusual surrogacy case that has opened a can of worms came to light early this month when it was discovered that a Norwegian mother was trying to return to her home country with twin boys who share no genetic link with her.
In May 2009, Andras Bell (name changed) approached Rotunda fertility clinic in Bandra and commissioned a surrogacy. As she was suffering from premature ovarian failure, the 31–yearold woman, with the help of the clinic, chose a sperm donor of Scandinavian origin and an Indian egg donor. The tailor–made embryo created within 48 hours was implanted in the womb of an Indian surrogate, and her boys were born in April this year.
What Bell did not anticipate is that the now mandatory DNA test–demanded by many European consulates in the wake of the recent surrogacy controversies–revealed that she and her children were not biologically related. Bell had no genetic link with the children except that she had commissioned the surrogacy and signed a few pages at the IVF clinic stating that she would be their ‘legal mother’.
The consul general of Norway therefore rejected Bell’s plea for travel documents and paperwork necessary step towards obtaining citizenship. Ten days ago, two Norwegian embassy representatives arrived in Mumbai and contacted Rotunda clinic. They asked for the relevant paperwork that proved Bell had commissioned the surrogacy.
WHAT’S DIFFERENT ABOUT THE CASE? It is one of the rare cases of surrogate parenting where the children have no genetic link to the mother Experts are asking why Bell did not adopt a child, instead of creating tailor–made babies who are biologically not related to her Legal experts say it will be difficult to prove her motherhood in any court While the Norwegian consulate is willing to process adoption papers with the surrogate’s name listed as the children’s mother, the draft bill by the Indian Council of Medical Research prevents the surrogate being named Surrogate twins in no–man’s land Case Highlights Ethical Debate On Tailor–Made Babies And Embryo Adoption Mumbai: Two representatives from the Norwegian embassy in Delhi are making enquiries about Andras Bell’s surrogacy procedure in a Mumbai clinic.
“We provided all the relevant documents and two to three informed consent papers that she had signed,’’said medical director of Bandra’s Rotunda Clinic Dr Gautam Allahabadia. He added that the clinic had done nothing illegal or unethical.
“Embryo adoption is a well–accepted choice, and probably the only option for women who are unable to conceive naturally,’’said Allahabadia, one of the key members who helped frame the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) draft bill guidelines. But the guidelines–asking fertility clinics to ensure that international clients had the approval of their respective consulates to avoid visa problems for their offspring–were framed only this year, months after Bell commissioned the surrogacy.
When TOI contacted the Norwegian embassy in New Delhi on Tuesday, they refused to comment on the issue. “We are working on this case,’’was all an official was willing to say. Bell, too, who is in Mumbai with the babies refused to talk to TOI. The Norwegian delegates also visited L H Hiranandani Hospital at Powai where the twins were born. The hospital authorities chose not to comment on the issue on the grounds that that their role was restricted to delivering the twins.
Bell’s children are virtually in no man’s land, but the greater ethical debate is why she commissioned surrogacy when she could have just adopted a child. “One reason could be that she wanted to avoid the stringent adoption laws and believed that surrogacy was an easier path,’’said an IVF expert. According to Allahabadia, as far as he can recall, this is the first time a Norwegian citizen has come under her country’s scanner. He said that a friend of Bell had also commissioned a surrogacy in India and returned to her country with the child, without a hitch. “I always insist that my clients be updated on their country’s laws,’’said Allahabadia. While it is not banned in Norway, the laws limit the use of reproductive technologies in connection with surrogacy.
The two Norwegian delegates, who said that the boys may not be given citizenship, mentioned that they were open to the idea of helping Bell adopt the twins provided the surrogate was named as their mother in the birth certificate. “They wanted the surrogate to be named so that Bell could adopt them from her. But the ICMR guidelines clearly states that only the client’s name be listed as a parent in the birth certificate,’’said Allahabadia. The Indian surrogate cannot be named on the certificate.
The fate of the two boys is not known: the chances of them being listed for adoption are very high. “There is no way the children can be granted citizenship as per the Indian laws. It will be difficult for Bell to prove that she is their mother in any court of law,’’said legal expert Amit Karkhanis. “Worse, the children could end up for adoption.’’
Last heard, with no alternative in sight, Bell has already begun the adoption procedure.
Passage to norway denied
MAY 2009 | Norwegian woman Andras Bell approaches a fertility clinic at Bandra and commissions surrogacy With the help of the clinic, she meticulously chooses an unrelated Scandinavian sperm donor from Cyros Sperm Bank in Denmark. She then chooses an Indian egg donor
MAY 2009 | Within 48 hours, the tailor–made embryo is created in the IVF clinic. It is later implanted in the surrogate’s womb
APRIL 2010 | The surrogate carries pregnancy to term and Bell’s twin boys are delivered
The matter came to light when Bell tried to return to Norway with her twins. DNA tests could find no genetic link between Bell and the babies
JULY 2010 | Norwegian delegates from the embassy in Delhi come to Mumbai to look for a solution. An investigation into the matter is still going on
LAW IN NORWAY | Many European countries have banned surrogacy, but Denmark, Norway, and Sweden ‘limit the use of reproductive technologies in connection with surrogacy’
- If a foreigner or a foreign couple seeks sperm or egg donation or surrogacy in India, the child shall not be an Indian citizen
- The birth certificate issued to a baby born through surrogacy shall bear the name of the individual who commissioned the surrogacy
- The party seeking surrogacy must establish through proper documentation that their country permits surrogacy, and the child born will be permitted entry into that country as a citizen STICKY SITUATION
Israeli gay father Dan Goldberg was stranded in Mumbai with his twin boys for three months, when a judge in his home country ruled that it was not within his jurisdiction to allow him to undergo a paternity test. The court eventually gave the order and Goldberg was able to return to Israel
In 2008, German twins Leonard and Nikolas born to a surrogate in Gujarat were stuck in a legal battle as German laws do not recognise surrogacy. After a fierce battle at the Supreme Court, the ministry of external affairs issued an exit permit to the twins in May after the Germany granted visas
A 40–year–old French gay father is still in India with his twins as the embassy has refused to issue birth certificates or travelling papers to the children. France does not recognise surrogacy and rules are particularly stringent for homosexual couples. The father has taken up a job in India, hoping that the French government will soften its stand