The Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) Bill was introduced in the Parliament on September 14, 2020 and this bill seeks to provide for the regulation of Assisted Reproductive Technology services in the country, resulting in more ethical norms being followed in ART. ART is used to treat infertility, In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) being its most common form. It works by removing eggs from a woman's body and mating it outside of the human body to make embryos, which is then placed back in the woman’s body.
The ART bill is being seen as a step towards ensuring welfare of women, in line with the Surrogacy Regulation Bill 2020, and the approval of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Amendment Bill 2020. These legislative measures are steps to protect women’s reproductive rights. Once enacted, a National Board will be set up which will lay down code of conduct to be observed by persons working at clinics, set the minimum standards of physical infrastructure, laboratory and diagnostic equipment and expert manpower to be employed by clinics and banks.
ART has particularly been introduced keeping in mind its growth in India in the last few years. India is among countries that have seen the highest growth in the number of ART centres and ART cycles performed every year. Even though India has become one of the major centres of the global fertility industry with reproductive medical tourism becoming a significant activity, yet there is no standardisation of protocols and reporting has been inadequate.
The Bill states that assisted reproductive technologies can be availed of by any woman above marriageable age but less than 50 years and any man above marriageable age but less than 55 years. Health ministry sources said this step was taken after reports of a number of cases of aged women undertaking these procedures, which is not advisable. Some provisions of the bill include ‘safe ART’ which implies safety and an ethical practice of assisted reproductive technology services in the country. It will ensure confidentiality of intending couples and protect the rights of the child born through ART. The bill also intends to make pro-genetic implantation test mandatory. This means that the doctors will test embryos for any possible abnormal chromosomes before they are transferred to the uterus. This is to avoid any genetic diseases in the population born through these technologies. Thirdly, an ART bank will be set up to help patients get matched with suitable donors.
The Bill also proposes for a stringent punishment for those practising sex selection, sale of human embryos or gametes, running agencies/rackets/organisations for such unlawful practices. Those found involved in trafficking and sale of embryos will be fined Rs 10 lakh at first instance and second-time offences could lead to imprisonment for up to 12 years.
The Bill provides that the National and State Boards for Surrogacy be constituted under the Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2019 and it will act as the National and State Board respectively for the regulation of ART services. Key powers and functions of the National Board include: (i) advising the central government on ART related policy matters, (ii) reviewing and monitoring the implementation of the Bill, (iii) formulating code of conduct and standards for ART clinics and banks, and (iv) overseeing various bodies to be constituted under the Bill. The State Boards will coordinate the enforcement of the policies and guidelines for ART as per the recommendations, policies, and regulations of the National Board.