How four Chinese elders fought to turn their dead children’s fertilized egg into a grandson

By The Beijing News Source:Global Times Published: 2018/4/23 18:53:39

Despite legal and medical hurdles, they have persevered in carrying on their bloodline

○ The miraculous birth of baby Tiantian gives hope to other surrogate and IVF parents

○ Prior to their fatal accident, Tiantian's parents had their eggs frozen in a local hospital

○ Tiantian's grandparents overcame numerous legal obstacles to win their right to the frozen eggs

Photo: VCG

Five years ago, a traffic accident killed a couple in Yixing, East China's Jiangsu Province; more than four years after that, their child was born.

The miraculous birth of the baby, Tiantian, was achieved by the four devastated parents of the deceased couple after their initial efforts were blocked by China's legally ambiguous IVF baby and surrogacy laws. 

On March 20, 2013, Shen Jie and Liu Xi, both of them only children, were killed in a car accident. The tragedy devastated their four elderly parents, who had no other children due to China's old family planning policy. 

Prior to the accident, the young couple had frozen their fertilized eggs in a hospital in Nanjing, the provincial capital. This became the only hope of their living relatives, who decided to "give birth" to the baby and continue their family lineage by using modern science. 

In order to achieve this goal, they immersed themselves in legal battles and won the right of guardianship for the fertilized eggs, eventually having the baby via a surrogate mother in Laos.

Legal battle

Talking about the fatal accident, Hu Xingxian, mother of Liu Xi, still sheds tears. Hu told The Beijing News that Shen Jie and Liu Xi were unable to get pregnant two years into their marriage, so they attempted to have an IVF baby. 

They successfully froze their fertilized eggs at Gulou Hospital in Nanjing, then decided to have an operation for implanting the eggs in 2013. 

However, tragedy came just five days before the planned date when both of them were killed.  

This was no doubt a huge blow to both families, as it would mean not only the loss of their beloved children, but also the end of their family line.  

Shen Jie's parents immediately thought about having another child despite their age, both in their 50s. They used traditional Chinese medicine and frequently visited doctors, but their attempts were all in vain. 

Eventually, they decided to make a grandchild out of the frozen eggs of their son and daughter-in-law. 

The first step was to get the eggs out of the hospital. However, there was no precedence in China for fertilized eggs of deceased parents being granted to surviving relatives. 

The Ministry of Health has a regulation banning trading embryos and surrogacy operations by hospitals and doctors. But it does not mention how to deal with fertilized eggs that have not already been implanted into the human body. 

They hired a lawyer, who arranged for Shen's parents to file a lawsuit against Liu's parents, which according to the lawyer was the most convenient and promising way of getting the eggs out of the hospital. 

But the Yixing court ruled that fertilized eggs, with the potential of developing into humans, cannot be inherited or transferred. 

A retrial by the upper Wuxi Intermediate Court shined its humanistic light on the grieving parents, ruling that both families are entitled to inherit the fertilized eggs, as they were "the only remaining carrier of the families' blood and their remorse, affection and spiritual comfort."

Shen Xinnan and his wife in the room of their late son and daughter-in-law in 2014.Photo: VCG

Disputable surrogacy

However, winning support from the court was only the first step of their long march.

When Shen Xinnan, father of Shen Jie, received the court ruling in September of 2014, he immediately went to the hospital to withdraw the fertilized eggs.  

Hu Xingxian remembers the first time she saw the fertilized eggs, stored in a glass tube at Gulou Hospital. She couldn't see anything except the white fumes that filled the tube. 

However, the hospital said it would only transfer the eggs to another hospital instead of to Shen as an individual, and that it would only do so in the presence of a local court employee. 

As surrogacy operations are banned in China, Shen could not find a single hospital in the country that dared to accept the fertilized eggs. He became so desperate that he was swindled once by a con artist who promised to get things done for him after soliciting money from Shen. 

"Everyone knows what Shen wants to do with the embryo. He will certainly carry forward his blood," said Li Yun, lawyer of Shen. 

"Assisted human reproduction technologies should be conducted in medical facilities and only for medical treatment purposes. It must abide by national family planning policy, ethics and related legal terms," ruled the Assisted Human Reproduction Techniques Regulation, approved by the Ministry of Health in 2001.

"Medical institutes and medical workers must not conduct surrogacy technique of any form," the policy states. 

During a television interview in Shanghai in 2014, the four elderly parents expressed their hope that authorities would reconsider their plight. At least two of their nieces said that they would like to act as a surrogate mother for them. 

However, a reproduction legal expert told them on the TV show that surrogacy would not be allowed in order to protect the offspring.

But some legal professionals believe this regulation is disputable. 

Yang Lixin, a law professor at the Renmin University of China, told The Beijing News that the health ministry's regulation was only an administrative ban targeting medical institutions and doctors, and that it does not forbid ordinary people from pursuing surrogacy services. 

"Until now, surrogacy hasn't been forbidden by law," Yang said. 

Shen reached out to various surrogacy agencies that provide surrogacy services in other countries. After consulting dozens of agencies, Shen finally settled on Liu Baojun, who has surrogate mothers in Cambodia. 

The whole process would cost 300,000 yuan ($47,585) if successful, but nothing if it failed. Shen thought about all potential risks, including miscarriage and an unhealthy baby, and reached an agreement after a long process of negotiations. 

Shen decided on a hospital in Laos with the help of Liu Baojun. On December 20, 2016, the four elderly parents finally acquired the fertilized egg in the presence of three court members. They immediately sent the eggs to the Laotian hospital.


Hard-won life

The process of sending the eggs to Laos safely was also not easy. For people who seek surrogacy services in other countries, the couple must travel there and provide their semen and egg. But fertilized eggs are a completely different story. 

Shen initially tried to fly the eggs to Laos, however, no airline companies would ship the eggs. A Spanish shipping company agreed to do it, but required written consent from the eggs' parents.

Even though China's customs allows eggs to be carried out of the country, Lao customs require a lot of paperwork in order to accept them. 

Eventually, the senior parents asked several colleagues to get on a self-driving tour from Yunnan Province across the national border into Laos, successfully escorting the eggs to the hospital. 

The surrogate mother from Laos gave birth to their child, Tiantian, in Guangzhou, South China's Guangdong Province. 

DNA tests prove that Tiantian is the son of Shen Jie and Liu Xi. Despite the foreign nationality of the surrogate mother, Professor Yang Lixin said the child is of Chinese nationality. 

Shen brought the hard-won child back home to Yixing and hired a nanny to take of him 24 hours a day. When the baby turned 100 days old on March 8, Shen threw a big party and invited relatives and friends.  

"It is sad that this child doesn't have parents like everyone else," Shen said, explaining that he will tell the child that his parents are staying overseas until he is old enough to learn the truth.

The Beijing News

Newspaper headline: Odyssey of an egg


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