Surrogate pregnancy remains a shady business as ban is repealed

Source:Global Times - Nandu Daily Published: 2016-1-26 19:34:01

China has recently repealed its ban on surrogacy, which has been seen as a victory for those that face barriers to having a baby. An underground surrogacy industry has boomed in recent years, partially due to the country's growing infertile population. Due to a lack of supervision and clear rules, the industry is chaotic and many are calling for the government to draft regulations.

"Hand over 300,000 yuan ($45,600) and you can have a baby through surrogacy." "Any demands you make, we can find you an appropriate surrogate mother." Such slogans are quite often seen in online advertisements for surrogate groups.

On December 27, 2015, a revised version of the Population and Family Planning Law of China was passed, which didn't include a controversial clause proposed in the draft that would have prohibited all kinds of surrogacy.

The move is seen by surrogacy supporters as a step forward spreading fertility rights to those that face barriers in having children. However, even when the country was cracking down on surrogacy, the business was booming underground, due to the increasing infertile population.

Statistics from the China Population Association (CPA) in 2013 revealed that infertile population of the country has surpassed 40 million, making up 12.5 percent of the total population who are of childbearing age.

As both a legal and ethical dilemma, surrogacy has always been controversial.

Because of a lack of legal protections, online surrogacy platforms are chaotic and have become a hotbed of scams.

Despite the simple change in regulations, experts are now calling for more specific and concrete rules to better regulate surrogacy. 

Beauty pageant

When Xia Juan (pseudonym) was short of money, she began searching for a job through popular instant messaging software QQ.

She joined two active online surrogate groups which have more than 1,000 members.

Xia, a 26-year-old from South China's Guangdong Province, has been struggling to find work as she is often rejected by shallow employers who think she is not sufficiently attractive to do the jobs for which she applies.

She rarely goes outside, but spends most of her time communicating with potential clients online.

On January 4, Xia sent messages to two QQ groups. The messages said "Personal surrogacy, age 25, 162 centimeters, 57.5 kilograms, blood type O. People who are interested contact me."

According to Xia, she found her first client in May 2015, an overweight middle-aged man living in Nanjing, East China's Jiangsu Province.

Xia flew to Nanjing, at her client's expense, after starting ovulation. This was the first time she took a flight. They tried to "naturally" fertilize her eggs in a Nanjing hotel.

But their attempt did not succeed. In return, Xia got free round tickets from Nanjing to Guangzhou and 5,000 yuan as reward.

"Surrogacy is similar to beauty pageants. Height and good appearance mean good genes, which are tokens for asking a high price," said D Tingting (pseudonym), an active surrogate mother and intermediary agent.

Tingting hails from a village in Deyang, Southwest China's Sichuan Province. According to her, clients consider the surrogate mother's height, weight, age, appearance and education.

"We can find clients the right person once they bring the requests. All those things can be solved through money," she said.

Thriving underground

In surrogacy, there are four kinds of collaboration between clients and surrogate mothers. The first and most popular is the "manual" method. When the surrogate is ovulating, she will manually insert a client's semen into her womb. The second is the "natural" method, in which after a negotiation the surrogate and a client will have sex when the surrogate mother is ovulating. The third way is in vitro fertilization, in which the client provides a fertilized egg that will be implanted into the surrogate's womb. The fourth is blind donation, in which a surrogate provides an egg, which will be extracted at a qualified hospital.

"Different methods cost different amounts. As the prices vary greatly, how much they charge is the biggest secret in the group. Based on the minimum charging standards of the first three methods, clients can have a baby for about 300,000 yuan," Tingting said.

In the QQ groups, surrogates are asked to put a "D" before their nickname to show they are surrogates, clients add a "Q" and intermediary agents add a "Z."

When the Global Times reporter tried to enter one surrogate group which has 1,012 members, an administrator asked for a 50 yuan entry fee. She said it's easy to find a surrogate job in the QQ group and there are people responsible for introducing clients to surrogates and negotiating prices.

Clients can arrange for surrogates to have a physical test first and if the results are acceptable, they have to pay from 10,000 yuan to 20,000 yuan as a deposit. The client then pays the surrogate mother a monthly salary during her pregnancy.

During pregnancy, there are sanyang (loose rearing) and juanyang (confined rearing) arrangements.

If a client chooses sanyang, he or she doesn't supervise the surrogate mother's daily life, while in juanyang arrangement, the surrogate stays under the watchful eye of the client and has to eat a diet designed by the client.

According to Tingting, clients are divided into three groups. The largest group are middle-aged couples without children; the second group is single people; the third group is gay people.

Muzili, a famous blogger, said in a piece she posted to her blog that there are many people choosing surrogacy because of the traditional preference for sons over daughters.

Many couples seek fertility services in countries like Thailand, because there they can learn the gender of their unborn child - a practice banned in China.

Because of a lack of supervision, online surrogacy platforms are filled with untrustworthy people.

On January 2, a client "Q Songsong" was given a scolding by his wife in the group. Then surrogate "D Shanshan" had an hour-long quarrel with the wife. It turned out that her husband didn't tell her that he was collaborating with a surrogate.

Fraud also happens regularly in the QQ groups. Many clients use the groups to hook up and many surrogate mothers use the platform to steal money.

A client calling themselves "MEI" was cheated by a surrogate mother. The woman continued to take contraceptive pills while working with MEI.

"Children should be the products of love. Surrogacy makes children a tradable thing. This also challenges the concept of monogamy," wrote Muzili.

Raising an industry

In 2001, China stipulated in the Management Measures of Human Auxiliary Reproduction Technology that medical institutions and staff are not allowed to perform any kind of surrogacy procedures. However, this simply pushed the business underground.

Despite the ban, clients and surrogates circumvent medical institutions to perform the procedure themselves.

During those years, the surrogacy business was in a gray zone. With the help of the Internet, many surrogacy agencies sprung up nationwide.

Since 2013, the government began cracking down on all kinds of surrogacy. In March, 2015, the National Health and Family Planning Commission collaborated with 12 other departments to prevent surrogacy. From April to December 2015, the government initiated a special campaign against it - to little effect.

In December 2015, based on the Population and Family Planning Law, the legislature discussed adding a new, more sweeping regulation which totally prohibited purchasing sperm, eggs as well as any kind of surrogacy.

However, several committee members suggested later that it's better to change "ban surrogacy" to "regulate surrogacy."

In the final revised law, the "ban surrogacy" clause was not included.

The change is seen by supporters as a move to help people that for various reasons can't conceive children.

Zhang Chunsheng, director of the law department under the National Health and Family Planning Commission, explained in an interview that several committee members think further consultation with various groups needs to be sought. And some think surrogacy is hard to totally ban even if it is against the law.

Zhang added that China still bans medical institutions and staff performing surrogacy procedures. But using non-medical methods for surrogacy are not prohibited under the new law.

Li Yinhe, a well-known sexologist, told the Nandu Daily that surrogacy is also a challenging issue in most countries. In the US, only some states allow surrogacy.

As the demand for surrogacy is high, Li believes "A country should not use the law to restrain surrogacy, as it is a market behavior. If there is a couple who can't give birth to their own children, and there are people willing to be surrogates, the market will exist. Any kind of law can't prohibit this."

A report in 2010 by the CPA showed that one in eight couples of childbearing age faces fertility problems. The number is four to five times higher than 20 years ago.

"The causes of infertility range from unhealthy lifestyles to unsafe abortions and pollution, and these should be nationwide concern," said Wang Hong, chief physician at Beijing Tianlun Sterility Hospital, the Global Times reported previously.

The legal change shows that the government has realized that prohibiting surrogacy does not help solve the problem, and that what needed is to tackle the gray industry through better management, she added.

Currently there are no regulations describing the rights of parties involved in non-medical surrogacy if disputes arise.

Li suggested that to better regulate the surrogate industry, it's necessary to make clear who can employ a surrogate and who can be a surrogate, in order to mineralize confusion and conflicts.

"Surrogacy is not just a fertility problem. There will be a series of ethical, societal, legal and economic problems coming after it," she warned.

Global Times - Nandu Daily

Newspaper headline: Rent a womb

Posted in: In-Depth

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