FREEZING POSTERITY - POSTPONING MOTHERHOOD
BY ANIL MALHOTRA
Actor Natasha Suri is not averse to the idea of embracing motherhood some day, but it would have to be at “ the right time “ - when she finds “the right partner to create a family with”. Occupied with work engagements, she has decided to “freeze” her eggs to have a baby in the future, if so desired . Are social norms undergoing a sea change .
Whilst policy makers have enacted Surrogacy law for Parliament whereby surrogacy in India will be restricted to infertile Indian married couples only and not for foreigners, child bearing has a new international dimension. Oocyte Cryopreservation i.e. freezing of a woman’s eggs, vitrification, in which they are flash frozen in liquid nitrogen is stated to be an option to extend fertility and delay motherhood. Silicon valley technology giants have offered 20,000 USD for freezing eggs and 480 USD annually for storing them to enable women to focus on their careers and postpone child birth beyond the age of 40.
NEW AGE INNOVATION
Whilst the Ministry of Finance allows ‘Human Embryos’ frozen in liquid nitrogen in cryogenic jars to be imported subject to a “no objection” from Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the National Gamete Donation Trust (NGDT) in UK is now the newly formed national organisation for sperm, egg and embryo donation. It encourages ethnic minority backgrounds to choose from a variety of “culturally matched donors” and proposes to “change the face” of sperm donation in Britain. What started as a technique for freezing female eggs to enable women with cancer to store eggs prior to chemotherapy leading to infertility, has now become a service perquisite. A woman can freeze her eggs to promote her career and climb the corporate ladder by deferring motherhood. In another dimension, posthumous impregnation and creation of babies by assisted and collaborative modern techniques such as in-vitrio fertilisation or cryopreservation of gametes and eggs may evoke strong notions about life, parenthood and immortality. Such posthumous artificial reproduction has unchartered legal issues which baffle current outdated laws. Banking is no longer associated with money but with sperms and eggs as well.
A barrage and volley of arguments have followed with the offers of frozen parenthood. They range from the risks of tampering with nature the order of nature, unwarranted interference between a woman and motherhood, subjecting the woman to health risks, expensive time consuming medical procedures and reach the other end to promising “fertility insurance”, deferred child birth plans with assured career progression, while the biological clock ticks away, without compromising on high end careers. An amazing reality situation where over worked professionals who have no time for natural procreation and are temporarily domiciled in different international locations are taking a convenient call to use such techniques since they are physically apart at the time of conception. Families are thus sought to be designed in frozen frames for career couples whose ambitious lives have scarce time to conceive naturally. Invention, the mother of time, has overtaken human relationships in this race. Babies are designed and planned like careers, not for joy bur for necessity.
Whilst everybody talks of the rights of the father and mother to be, nobody has looked at the rights of the unborn child. This high fashion technology has been totally oblivious to the duties of these jet age parents towards their progeny to be. Postponing conception for career advancement takes away the rights of an unborn child. Be it a frozen embryo in a cryogenic jar or a frozen sperm or egg in a bank, a human life may be at stake. Besides issues of morality and ethics, there is no focus of the “Right to Life” of an unborn child. From the perspective of this proposed child, his right to be born cannot be frozen, once he is meant to be procreated. For a child to be born and most important for him to enjoy the company of his young parents may be a question which needs determination. Furthermore, for a man or a woman to intentionally postpone conception of a frozen embryo, egg or sperm, deprives an unborn child of his right to life as also to the youthful company of his parents. A child born to parents after 20 years of his frozen conception deprives him of the young companionship of his healthy parents which he would have enjoyed, had he not been consigned to posterity. This angle seems to have been totally ignored.
Bargaining postponed motherhood is cashing on sentiments, emotions, parentage and joys of natural born off-spring by trading them for fast end careers, thereby also planting selective discrimination for those women who choose to opt for timely natural child birth. Egg, sperm and embryo banking which were alien concepts will now enter the home, the bedroom, the family and the societal set up to set up a new arena of rights which existing codified laws do not cater. The Kerala High Court is already examining an issue of a foster mother of a surrogate child who has moved court for maternity leave after she became a mother post 20 years of marriage. She claims all rights of a biological mother. Issues may also arise in failed frozen child births as being power games, if unfortunately postponed child births fail due to medical complications or unsuccessful retrieval of eggs. There is no law which assures and guarantees a woman to a healthy biological child just because she froze her eggs. Therefore, snatching away joys of timely motherhood by bargaining them for shooting career options with financial packages sends exploitative corporate signals. Ambitions are clouded with rosy dreams of postponed child birth also putting women who do not avail it to suffer lack of a corporate rise.
In the interest of nature, joyful parenting and psychological welfare of an unborn child, it may be a dire call to enact a mandatory law providing incentives, benefits and perquisites for timely parenthood achieved naturally or through surrogacy. Providing generous leave for fertility treatments, maternity leave even for foster mothers, time for child care and adoption benefits may be a more feasible human approach. Work places may provide special rooms or play rooms in crèches for children of working mothers. Providing yearly sabbaticals or periods such as “dies-non”, which do not affect career prospects of working women can further promote timely parenthood without bargaining on professional rights. Special incentives for women at par with other categories can remove gender or selective discrimination. Most of all, our legislators with advancement of technology and time have to step in with statutory safeguards to ensure protection of rights of unborn children and prevent exploitative commercial overtones not to capture parental rights. Unless and until a clear legislative policy is enacted, power games of utilisation of female manpower may become a tool in the hands of career launchers who chose to catapult professional aspirations, goals and objectives into space by keeping in deep freeze natural joys of parents and unborn children in tandem. Any delay by law in catching up with such loopholes of employment law will only widen the chasm of the dreams of the frozen unborn child in a bank whose parents to be have unwittingly bargained away a joy to be experienced, felt, nurtured and treasured .The loss will soon reverberate in society , if not regulated like a unbridled horse.
AUTHOR, LEGAL ANALYST, ADVOCATE, IS AN IAFL FELLOW www.anilmalhotra.co.in