Proposed eugenics law not on agenda

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 May, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 May, 1994, 12:00am

CHINA appears to have quietly shelved its controversial law on eugenics after encountering criticism from both within its own government and abroad.

The draft legislation, first submitted to the National People's Congress (NPC) last December, will not be on the agenda of this week's NPC Standing Committee meeting and is unlikely to be discussed at the following session, a spokesman said yesterday.

NPC spokesman Shen Zhangrong said the law could now only be discussed when a vacancy appeared in the NPC's busy schedule. He declined to say if a vacancy might appear this year or not.

The proposed law provoked outrage in many western countries because it appeared to advocate the forced sterilisation of mentally or physically handicapped women.

The Ministry of Public Health denied any intention to force anyone to undergo sterilisation or have an abortion but the original draft was subsequently revised to make it appear less contentious.

The revised law, now entitled ''the law on the protection of the health of mothers and infants'', omits all mention of ''inferior births'' and ''eugenics'' and emphasises the positive rather than negative aspects of the programme.

However, it is understood the revised draft is still not ready for submission to the NPC because of continued opposition from the State Family Planning Commission.

The commission has been critical of the proposed law in case it damages China's international reputation. The commission was also concerned the new law would create an additional workload without providing additional resources.

Despite the failure to enact the legislation, eugenics continues to be practised as a matter of course by local governments throughout China, particularly in the poorer provinces, such as Gansu, which do not have the resources to cope with the mentally and physically handicapped.

Gansu introduced its eugenics law in 1989 and local family planning officials sterilised more than 1,000 ''congenitally retarded'' people with an IQ of less than 49 in the first year of the law's operation.

Analysts said the failure to pass the legislation might lead to greater problems for the mentally and physically handicapped in China. Leaving eugenics work up to ill-trained and unsympathetic local officials rather than codifying it in a national law would be of no benefit to those affected, they said.

''Its ironic that this legislation, which caused such a stink in the west, could have actually improved conditions for many mentally handicapped people in China,'' a Chinese population expert said.