The top health authority has rejected media reports suggesting China will legalize surrogacy in five to 10 years and pledged to continue to crack down on the illegal procedure in line with laws and regulations.
A report in the Beijing Times on Tuesday quoted a reproductive medical expert as saying the country will legalize surrogacy within five to 10 years.
To prepare, the Ministry of Health is currently consulting experts in medicine, law and sociology on the issue of surrogacy, said Qiao Jie, president of the Third Hospital of Peking University, according to the Beijing Times.
The maternal and child healthcare and community health department under the ministry, told the newspaper Jian Kang Bao that the ban on surrogacy would remain, citing potential ethical and legal issues and claiming the practice may harm surrogate mothers both mentally and physically.
Zhai Xiaomei, a member of the medical ethics expert committee under the ministry, told China Daily: "Surrogacy has long been totally banned in China and will not be widely used in the future."
In 2001, the ministry issued a regulation on assisted fertility techniques, banning surrogacy in any form - commercial or altruistic.
A staff member at the information office of the ministry surnamed Ma said the ban is a result of expert research and an assessment found surrogacy involves potential ethical and legal issues.
"Problems concerning surrogacy in ethics and law remain under discussion, a total ban would be a 'necessary evil'," said Zhai.
Surrogacy is an arrangement in which a woman carries and delivers a child for another couple or individual.
The intended parents might turn to surrogacy because of female infertility or other medical conditions that make pregnancy or delivery impossible, risky or otherwise undesirable, according to medical experts.
Experts estimate about 7 percent of Chinese couples of childbearing age are infertile, according to Qiao Jie.
In Beijing alone, more than 20,000 couples underwent legal in-vitro fertilization last year resulting in the births of about 5,000 babies, according to the capital's health bureau.
"A total ban is not fair for couples with such problems," Zhai said.
She suggested its use be limited to couples who need it for medical reasons.
"Unnecessary surrogacy for commercial purposes will always be banned in China," she stressed.
The Ministry of Health said it would conduct further research into the issue.
In early February, the ministry launched a yearlong nationwide campaign against illegal assisted fertility procedures such as surrogacy and the illegal trade in eggs and sperm.
Currently, the ministry has approved 358 medical facilities offering assisted fertility techniques, statistics have shown. There are 17 authorized sperm banks nationwide.
However, the ministry conceded that illegal practices such as surrogacy, illegal collection of sperm and a black market in humans, does exist and is fuelled by fat profits.
Internationally, commercial surrogacy is banned in most countries and regions with some exceptions, such as India and Israel.
Those exceptions, however, attract clients from overseas, and India in particular has become a destination for surrogacy-related fertility tourism.
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