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Assisted Reproduction

Burgeoning Surrogacy Industry In China Raising Legal & Moral Issues

China has quietly emerged as one of the most active countries in the world when it comes to surrogacy:

BEIJING, Aug. 17 (Xinhuanet) — More than four years after sparking a nationwide debate over its ethical and legal propriety, China’s surrogate mother industry seems to have found acceptability — if not respectability. In fact, wombs-for-rent businesses are thriving in the world’s most populous country, where some studies indicate an estimated one in eight couples face fertility problems. Reports of a secretive surrogate pregnancy service, operating in a legal “gray area,” were widespread in early 2006 and intermediary websites were recruiting volunteers despite a government crackdown.

The industry in China is based on gestational surrogacy, whereby a woman agrees to become pregnant via embryo transfer. She is not the biological mother of the child and relinquishes it to its biological mother or father after its birth. No official statistics are available on the number of surrogate pregnancy agencies in China, but the Guangzhou-based Southern Metropolis Weekly newspaper estimated in April last year that around 25,000 surrogate children had been born in China in the past three decades.

Jiang Lei, who has been introducing childless couples to surrogate volunteers for two years, estimates surrogate mothers give birth to about 500 to 600 babies on the Chinese mainland annually. He reckons no more than 50 such agencies exist on the Chinese mainland, mostly in the cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Wuhan, Guangzhou and the country’s northern Hebei Province. A surrogate costs about 300,000 yuan (US$44,320) to hire in Beijing, says Jiang, who claims his agency, accounts for about more than 80 percent of the market in the capital. The agency’s website, daiyunguke.com, breaks down the cost as: fetus implantation 60,000 to 95,000 yuan; brokerage fees for the agency 140,000 yuan; surrogate mother 100,000 yuan; monthly apartment rent 3,000 yuan; and maternal care 2,000 yuan.

The intermediary charges clients 30,000 to 40,000 yuan in “connection fees” for doctors who carry out the fertilization procedures, says Jiang.Jiang, 27, says his agency helps up to 200 couples to find surrogate mothers each year, with a successful in-vitro fertilization rate of just over 50 percent.

Most would-be surrogates come from small or medium-sized cities or rural areas and almost all have financial problems, but only about one in five applicants are accepted. “Applicants are preferably aged 22 to 35, have a clean medical record and a good healthy body, and most important, they must be mentally stable and unlikely to withdraw midway,” he says.

Within a month of their first interview with the agency, they could be signing a three-party contract with the biological parents and intermediaries. Almost all biological parents refuse to contact the surrogate mother after the birth and more than 90 percent of biological parents have DNA tests to confirm the genetic link, says Jiang.

A woman who only identifies herself as Wang, 28, a jobless single mother of a 6-year-old boy, says signing the contract eliminated any fears that she might be cheated. Wang traveled from her home in the countryside of northeast China’s Jilin Province to Beijing after an online interview with Jiang’s company. She says she “had nothing to lose” in signing a contract with the biological parents and the intermediary company.

But the validity of the contract is still subject to dispute, says Song Yongfeng, a lawyer at the Shenzhen Branch of DeHeng Law Offices, who has been dealing with maternal law for 10 years and is an expert on surrogacy. Surrogacy contracts are not included in the Contract Law, which has no specifications regarding surrogacy, he says. In some cases, newborns have been abandoned or surrogate mothers have refused to give babies to the biological parents. Both biological parents and surrogates are reluctant to admit it, but the contentious issue of who is actually the “mother” remains, Song says.

Genetically, the child inherits the features of the biological parents, but they are nurtured by the blood of a surrogate mother. Despite the risks and expense, surrogacy still has a huge market in China given the number of infertile parents, Song says. Surrogacy challenges the cultural beliefs and ideals regarding the mother-infant relationship and China’s laws and attitudes have a long way to catch up, Song says.

China has no law pertaining to the surrogacy. In 2001, the Health Ministry issued the Administrative Measures for Human Auxiliary Reproduction Technology, banning all forms of trade in fertilized eggs and embryos and prohibiting medical institutions and medical staff from performing any form of surrogacy procedures. It also stipulates that the use of reproduction techniques must conform with China’s family planning policy, ethical standards and laws. The ban forced intermediary agents to arrange surrogacy procedures secretly in private and public hospitals where they had good personal connections with the doctors.

Surrogate Wang carried a baby boy, for which she received 100,000 yuan, about 20 times the average disposable income of a rural Chinese resident last year, which stood at 5,153 yuan. It came in instalments: 10,000 yuan in the first month of pregnancy, followed by 20,000-yuan tranches at the fifth, seventh and eighth months. The biological parents paid the rest on delivery of the baby.
Miscarriage payments are calculated according. For example, if the surrogate loses the child after a month, the payment is 10,000 yuan plus a 2,000 yuan or 3,000 yuan healthcare fee.

Wang is still hoping to complete her own family, but she will keep her surrogate past a secret from any future husband. She says she was well cared for during her pregnancy. The agency rented a two-bedroom apartment in downtown Beijing for her and another surrogate; and a housekeeper cooked and cleaned for them. She also had regular medical examinations in hospital. Occasionally clients request surrogates live with them so they can take good care of the “mother-to-be?themselves, Wang says.

While Wang gave the unborn child the best possible physical care, she refused to become emotionally attached to it so she could avoid a sense of loss after giving the child to the biological parents. “It’s nonsense to say we surrogates have no feelings towards the baby. It’s just not practical,” she says. “To keep in touch would do no good to both families. What would we tell the child after he grows up? That I am his mother?

(Source: Shanghai Daily)


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