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A friend of mine, in her late 40s, has just had two babies. Well strictly speaking someone else had them for her. She and her husband hired a young, able-bodied woman from a village in South China to be a surrogate mother, who was sent back to her home after the two baby girls were born early this year.
A wealthy couple in South China's Guangdong province went so far as to commission two surrogate mothers this year and now they have eight babies five by the surrogate mothers.
It's mind-blowing, and the advancements in biomedical technology have brought dramatic upheavals to traditional concepts and values and raised many legal, ethical and social questions.
Medical institutions and medical workers in China are prohibited from conducting any kind of surrogacy treatments under the regulation on human-assisted reproductive technologies issued by the Ministry of Health in 2001.
The regulation decrees that the technologies shall be restricted to medical establishments for medical sake and conform with China's family planning policy and ethical values.
The prohibitions, however, are openly flaunted.
Initially, surrogate mothers were used by couples where the woman was unable to give birth for some reason, or because they had lost their only child and the woman was now too old to give birth.
This is not the case now.
There are a number of wealthy women, who do not want to disrupt their careers by having a baby. They are ambitious and give priority to their professional interest over their family. There are some who are worried about ruining their figures by becoming pregnant. These women want children but don't want the pregnancy. Surrogacy serves as an ideal solution for them. They get a ready-made child without undergoing the pains of giving birth to one.
And then there are those for whom it is a means of circumventing the country's family planning policy.
Surrogacy existed under the table in China until a media storm erupted when it was revealed the wealthy couple in Guangdong had eight babies after they spent almost 1 million yuan (US$157,600) on in vitro fertilization and the hiring of two surrogate mothers.
"The case of the eight babies in Guangdong shows the extent to which human-assisted reproductive technologies are abused," said Dong Yuzheng, an ethicist and secretary-general of the Guangdong Family Planning Association.
In fact, there are serious issues arising from surrogate pregnancies. These are partly legal and partly ethical.
What prompts women to act as surrogates by offering their wombs to bear other women's children?
Money is the crucial factor for many women who agree to be surrogate mothers. In most cases, they are women facing financial difficulties. This might be because they need money to pay the medical bills for someone in their family or because they are divorced women who cannot afford to raise their children on their own. Since money is a crucial factor that prompts women to be surrogates, it inevitably leads to their financial exploitation.
If commercial surrogacy were legal, it would only be a service for the wealthy. Poorer people, who might be just as deserving, perhaps even more so, could never afford the fees demanded.
And what we would see in the future would be a breeder class - poor women renting their wombs to wealthy people.
Surrogate pregnancies also reinforce the out-dated belief that a woman is only a baby-producing machine.
Elizabeth Kane, the first commercial surrogate in the United States and now active in the National Coalition Against Surrogacy, said a surrogate mother feels like a flesh covered test tube during the entire experience.
A failure to consider the ethical implications of surrogate motherhood, commercial or otherwise, is to show a lack of concern for another human being.
The author is a senior writer with China Daily.
(China Daily 12/28/2011 page8)