Assisted reproductive technology bill to be examined by health committee

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The Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) Regulation Bill 2020, that aims to regulate clinics offering IVF and other assisted reproductive services in the country, has been referred to the standing committee on health and family welfare for examination. The committee has been asked to report with their suggestions within three months.

Chairman, Rajya Sabha, in consultation with the Speaker of Lok Sabha referred the Bill to the standing committee earlier this week.

The bill—which was introduced in the Lok Sabha during the monsoon session of Parliament in September— proposes constitution of a national board that will set the minimum standards of physical infrastructure, laboratory and diagnostic equipment and expert manpower to be employed by clinics and banks while offering their services.

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There will be a National Registry and Registration Authority to maintain a central database and assist the national board in its functioning. The bill also proposes stringent punishment for those practising sex selection, sale of human embryos or gametes (reproductive cells), and running agencies, rackets and organisations that violate the law.

Assisted reproductive technology services have grown significantly in the past few years in India, and the country has one of the highest growths documented in ART centres and the number of ART cycles performed each year.

India has become one of the major centres of this global fertility industry, with reproductive medical tourism too becoming popular. Clinics in India offer most ART services — gamete donation, intrauterine insemination (IUI), IVF etc., and gestational surrogacy. However, there is till now no standardisation of protocols, and reporting to the authorities is still inadequate.

The exact number of clinics running in the country is also not clear even as authorities estimate that close to 3,000 of such clinics may be operational across the country, with little or no supervision. The new law—meant to help put in these checks and a regulatory framework—will also make it mandatory for these clinics to register with the government and share information about the services they offer.

The bill is the most recent in a series of legislations that have been introduced to protect and safeguard the reproductive rights of women, including the Surrogacy Bill and the Medical Termination of Pregnancy amendment Bill.

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