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Department of Anthropology: Asian (In)Fertilities

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Selected news stories from the international press relating to Asian (In)Fertilities:

When marriages are made in labs - Daily News & Analysis

(27 November 2009)

Mumbai: Gokul and Kunti Bobate, professionals in their early 30s, were a happy couple for three years after their marriage. But their relationship started unravelling when Kunti failed to conceive. With the discord widening, they consulted a marriage counsellor, who suggested medical tests.

The results revealed that Kunti had Polycystic Ovary Disease (PCOD), one of the most common causes of infertility. Although she sees hope in medication, Kunti feels premarital medical screening could have spared her marriage the rough patch. Premarital screening, mandatory in countries as diverse as Saudi Arabia, Cyprus, China, Taiwan, Turkey, Italy and Brazil, and popular in the West, is catching on among sections in India, but is not yet a mainstream trend. "It was my dad's idea that I undergo premarital screening and I expect the same from my future partner," says Meghana Thomas, 26, a sales executive who has registered herself on a matrimonial website. "We believe that if you are sure about your life partner, you should be sure about starting a relationship on a healthy note," says Gourav Rakshit, business head, Shaadi.com, which promotes premarital screening. Usually, premarital screening tests a couple's blood compatibility to detect haemoglobin-related disorders like sickle-cell anaemia and thalassemia, looks for sexually transmitted diseases, and checks fertility. Nisha Ahamad, lab head of the diagnostic centre Metropolis, says many children are found suffering from haemoglobin-related disorders and if premarital screening becomes popular, a lot of unnecessary suffering can be prevented. "With a prenuptial test, corrective measures can be taken at the stage of conception. But India being a developing country, preventive healthcare is still a concept." To some, warranting premarital screening by law sounds attractive. After all, it promises disease-free babies, if not designer ones. But there is criticism of this. Of concern are the rights of the couple, particularly privacy violation and stigma, and costs, particularly when the possibility of results leading to wrong inferences make more tests necessary. "Through a screening like this, you are trying to predict what you want after marriage; and if medical technology provides you with that, I think it's okay. But this still remains a personal choice," says Sarala Bijapurkar, sociologist, KJ Somaiya College of Arts and Commerce. She says Indians invest a lot of trust and emotion in a relationship and a couple would not opt for premarital screening out of fear of jeopardising the future. "Or they simply don't know how to broach the topic. Also, in a democratic society like ours, where a blanket rule cannot be imposed, premarital screening will catch on only slowly." But supporters of premarital screening, like Sushant Sawant, a 29-year-old computer consultant, say it is better to be rational and check for medical compatibility than risk having an unhealthy baby. Sawant says calling off a relationship if the medical report is negative is a matter of personal choice. "It doesn't necessarily have to be a full stop; it just prepares you for the future. It's better than receiving a shock later. "For me, if the result shows HIV+, then it will matter, but diabetes or hypertension will be trivial." Bijapurkar says that any relationship involves a certain amount of uncertainty and the outcome of a medical test could be considered a part of that. Still, "a negative result may impact the woman more and affect her marital prospects". There are examples of couples who, despite negative results, went ahead with a relationship. Like Smita Shinde, 26. She found out she had anaemia, but is happily married today. "The screening did not deter us from tying the knot. But we are careful and plan things accordingly. Since I know of my health condition, I will not conceive till I am fit to do so," she says. Malini Shah, a marriage counsellor, puts in the last word on the topic: "Today, when both partners work hard and stress levels are high, premarital screening can simply save a relationship by making a couple aware. Premarital screening can prevent future shock!" Some names have been changed to protect identities.

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