A private hospital in Visakhapatnam is facing flak after allegations that it tricked a Dalit woman into surrogacy without her consent.
The woman, Sirisha*, a resident of Madhurawada, staged a protest, along with several women organisations, in front of the hospital on Thursday.
According to media reports, it all began when Sirisha, a mother of three, was searching for employment. Sirisha claims that she met one Usha, who brought her to Padmasri IVF Centre in the city with the promise that she would be given a job.
“After coming here, she convinced me saying I will be given Rs 20,000 if I donate my egg (ovam),” the victim told reporters, alleging that the IVF centre had tricked her.
Ten days later, she was asked to come to the hospital again to conduct the procedure. However, Sirisha alleged that the operation was that of an embryo transfer, which was done without her consent.
Speaking to TNM, ACP East Sub Division Narasimha Murthy said, “The woman gave us a complaint on May 21, alleging that she was taken to Padmasri IVF Centre in Visakhapatnam by one Usha on a false pretext.”
“She claimed that she was inseminated without her consent and fell really sick. She demanded that the pregnancy be terminated, which the IVF centre failed to do,” he added.
After the protest yesterday, Sirisha was admitted to the state-run King George Hospital late in the evening for treatment.
A case has been registered against the IVF centre’s management and the woman who brought her to the centre under Sections 420 (Cheating), 418 (Cheating with knowledge that wrongful loss may ensue to person whose interest, offender is bound to protect), 323 (Voluntarily causing hurt), 336 (Act endangering life or personal safety of others) and 344 (Wrongful confinement) read with 34, along with relevant sections of the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act.
The IVF centre’s licenses and permission required to conduct such procedures has also come under the scanner after the incident came to light.
“Initially they showed us certain documents and certificates, but those need to be thoroughly examined with the help of experts,” the ACP said.
The police officer further said, “The case is being dealt as per Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) guidelines, in coordination with the KGH Superintendent and Vishakhapatnam District Medical and Health Officer (DMHO).”
Meanwhile, women rights organisations are alleging that IVF centres are flouting rules and regulations by taking advantage of the vulnerability of victims.
“These IVF centres are indulging in massive breach of rules. Also, there is no close monitoring of such centres,” RN Madhavi, AIDWA City Secretary alleged.
“Women’s bodies are being commodified and exploited in all possible ways. The victim must get better treatment and compensation,” she added.
Hospital denies charges
Addressing a press meet on Thursday evening, the Managing Director of Padmasri IVF Centre, Dr Sudha Padmasri, denied the allegations.
The MD claimed that Usha and Sirisha had come to the hospital together after having entered into an agreement with the biological parents.
“It is a legal document to go ahead with embryo transfer,” she said, as she held up the agreement.
“Before embryo transfer, we administer some medicines for 10 days. If the woman was not interested, she should not have taken it. However, she was also prepared. On March 22, we performed the embryo transfer and after 14 days, we checked and found that she was carrying twins. Till then, the woman had claimed that she had no children and her husband was dead. However, after that, she said that her husband wanted to speak to me,” Dr Sudha said.
“I am born and brought up in Vizag, I did my MBBS and PG in Andhra Medical College. If someone read about the ICMR rules and regulations and the IVF Centre’s role in the agreement, it would be easy to understand about the hospital’s role in the agreements. If the woman is not interested to continue as a surrogate mother, no doctor would continue the process. Every document and all hospital permissions have been shown to the police and the DMHO also,” she told reporters.
What does the law say?
Surrogacy in India is governed by the draft Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2016, which seeks to regulate commissioning surrogacy and safeguard the rights of surrogate mothers.
The Centre had earlier said that the bill aimed to “control unethical practices, prevent commercialisation and prohibit exploitation of surrogate mothers and children.” However, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health and Family Welfare pointed out several discrepancies in the draft Bill and suggested amendments in August last year.
As far as abortion was concerned, the committee had said that the Bill was unclear on the role of an ‘appropriate authority’ in cases where a termination is sought.
“It may be statutorily mandated upon the appropriate authority to state categorically the reasons for permitting abortion within a specified time-frame taking into account the consent of the intending couple and the physical well-being of the surrogate mother,” the committee suggested.
While Sirisha sought an abortion from the IVF centre itself, the request was rejected due to guidelines from the ICMR and the Supreme Court. She is now planning to ask doctors at the state-run KGH to terminate her pregnancy. However, the case could also likely go to court.
Inputs by Nitin B.