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Surrogate pregnancy challenges social ethic
By Wang Zhuoqiong and Raymond Zhou (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-01-07 06:56

"We need volunteers for surrogate pregnancy. No sex services. Women with high education preferred. For your loving heart, you'll receive compensation of 40,000 yuan (US$4,900) or more."

This is an ad on a surrogate pregnancy website, AA69 Loving Heart Surrogate Pregnancy Net. It claims it is a non-profit service whose sole purpose is to help infertile couples in a way that is "harmless to society" and out of "respect and gratitude to surrogate mothers."

It is not the only website engaged in such nominally "public service" activities. But they all operate in a grey area because they used to be shut down by authorities.

Some legal experts point out that Chinese law does not specifically forbid "using another person's tummy to give birth to your own child." But a regulation by the Ministry of Health prohibits hospitals or any professional medical personnel rendering such a service.

The websites act as an intermediary. While they do not charge surrogate mothers, some do list miscellaneous fees for clients.

One site charges 5,000 yuan (US$617) for "information," 2,000 (US$247) or more for "food, lodging and transport" and 5,000 more for "services."

"We have migrant workers as surrogate mothers. We also have many college graduates. If you're willing to pay more, you can choose divorced women who have had healthy pregnancies before," said the website operator, who is identified only by surname, Lu.

While most sites have strict physical health requirements, such as a check-up, a restriction on smoking or drinking habits, no hereditary diseases or history of abortion, none seems to address the psychological pain that surrogate mothers must endure when finally giving up their babies.

In the United States, there have been cases when surrogate mothers could not sever the attachment to their babies and refuse to hand them over to the biological fathers. Such cases have raised public awareness of the ethical issue.

In China, some voice support for surrogate motherhood, citing the agony of infertile couples and the benefits to society as long as the process is open and legally protected.

Supporters say that a ban only forces those who want the children to resort to questionable methods, which raises the likelihood of scamming.

But most people in China are resolute in their opposition. "It will bring about many social issues," said Wu Qiantao, a professor at the Ethics and Moral Studies Centre at Renmin University in Beijing. "Once a woman goes through months of pregnancy and bears a child, she is the mother. And a contract for surrogate motherhood essentially asks her to sell her baby."

Liu Junhai, a legal expert at the China Academy of Social Sciences, said: "Surrogate motherhood involves personal freedom, human rights and ethics, and must be handled in accordance with the law."

Liu said the websites are open to the public and may have to face legal ramifications when the natural and surrogate mothers enter into an agreement without a full understanding of the law.

He emphasized that laws should be more explicit in terms of protecting the rights of these women, monitoring the procedure of surrogate pregnancy and guaranteeing legal rights of all participants.

(China Daily 01/07/2006 page1)

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