BEIJING — A recent article in the state-run People's Daily turned new attention to the always hot-button topic of human reproduction. For one thing, it suggested that changes made in 2015 to the controversial one-child policy have not, as many had predicted, produced a sudden baby boom. So couples are not after all rushing to have another baby just because the law says they can.
But what really stood out in the article, titled "Anxiety Over The Second Child That Doesn't Arrive," was its focus on surrogacy. The practice by which a woman agrees to carry the child for would-be parents is outlawed in China, but the authors of the article suggest the issue should be revisited as an option for some couples. The article notes that a significant number of parents in China would like to have another child but, for one reason or another, cannot conceive or carry the baby.
The National Health and Family Planning Commission responded to the article with a reminder that surrogacy in any form is illegal in China. It also said that it will continue to crack down firmly on anybody violating the law.
And yet there's certainly an argument to be made for at least debating the issue, particularly in light of the country's demographic situation, which has become grimmer over the past 16 years. The country's fertility rate is hovering between 1.4 and 1.5 children per woman, fare below the replacement level. At the same time, more than 1 million Chinese families have lost their only child for various reasons. That number continues to rise, placing pressure of families as they get older and have no one to support them, either financially or emotionally.
In many cases, those couples can no longer conceive a second child. With surrogacy, however, they'd have a chance to raise a new offspring, something that might ease the pain they feel over the loss of their first child, plus give them an opportunity to be accompanied in their twilight years. In that way, surrogacy would be both a humanitarian measure and a way to address the problem of China's aging society.
Turning to a surrogate mother is complicated, but it's not a scourge.
Also, particularly in China's mega-cities, more and more women and men are getting married late or not at all. Some professional women, for example, are focusing on careers rather than marriage, sometimes choosing to freeze their eggs, but without knowing when or if they'll ever be able to use them. Should people be denied access to all forms of reproduction just because they've chosen to follow new urban lifestyles that benefit the country as a whole?
Surrogacy may not be the best option for having children, but for certain people it's their only one, their last best hope. Auxiliary means, such as freezing eggs, donating sperm and responsible adoption schemes are all good and important ways to address problems related to reproduction. Surrogacy should be viewed similarly — as an option that some people simply need. China's hidden but very real surrogacy black market is testament to that fact.
In Shanghai — Photo: Joan Vila
Turning to a surrogate mother is complicated, but it's not a scourge. Rather than simply ban the practice, the government and medical institutions ought to educate people about it. They ought to inform the public of the possible risks, but then allow people to make their own choices. Every citizen, after all, should be afforded the right to have a child.
Certainly there are physical, legal and ethical hazards in surrogacy. That's why China should draw up clear rules and regulations to govern the practice, and take a scientifically managed approach to issue. For example, there ought to be rigorous screening of the people involved, as well as a complete database documenting all parties, even women who just donate ovum. Only if the database is open for use between related government agencies and eligible medical institutions can surrogacy be practiced in good order. But the time has come to begin.