Ban on surrogacy services explained
Commercial births, sales of sperm and eggs are abuses of technology, says official
Health authorities have for the first time offered an explanation of the country's ban on surrogate pregnancies and the sale of human eggs and sperm, calling the practices an abuse of assisted reproductive technology.
The ministry issued regulations five years ago on how the technology could be used and the standards required to provide the service. It specifically banned the commercialisation and industrialisation of the technology in supplemental rules released in February, designed to stamp out surrogate pregnancies.
Ministry of Health spokesman Mao Qunan said the technology could be applied only to people who were unable to have a child because of disease.
'Surrogate pregnancies and sales of sperm and eggs are an abuse of the technology and against China's regulations and social ethics,' Mr Mao said.
Under the ministry's rules, medical institutions and staff who use the technology to assist surrogate pregnancies face fines of up to 30,000 yuan, but the practice has been popular on the mainland.
Peking Union Medical College bioethics expert Zhai Xiaomei said intermediary agencies offering surrogates had boomed via the internet.
One website, registered in Zhejiang and calling itself a 'professional surrogate pregnancy agency', offers information on 88 'volunteers', listing their age, education and physical health.
Depending on their qualifications, the women receive 40,000 to 100,000 yuan as 'compensation' for their services, according to the website. 'Our website provides an information service. We only charge 4,000 yuan as an information fee,' it said. 'The regulation only regulates medical institutions. As an information provider, we are not illegal.'
The company said it provided services to enable people to have children in a society which equated offspring with filial piety. It also said children provided support for parents in their old age and the service helped marriages.
But Dr Zhai questioned the company's legitimacy. 'Only a limited range of medical institutions have the technology to perform surrogate pregnancies. There must be some medical services involved, which are against the regulations,' she said.
'The other possibility, I'm afraid, is that in many cases the pregnancies facilitated through intermediary services occur through sexual contact, which can lead to an even bigger mess.
'It's totally unimaginable for a woman's uterus to be regarded as a commodity. But a complete ban [on surrogate births] even in qualified institutions is not ideal because it closes the door to those who do need another woman's help to give birth to a child.
'The current market chaos is a result of the ban to some degree because [childless couples] seek solutions from any channel they can.'