China's Ministry of Health yesterday scotched media reports that surrogacy is about to be legalized.
It said it had invited medical, legal and sociological experts to discuss the current situation of assisted fertility in China.
But most believed surrogacy threw up a host of legal and moral problems and the ministry said it would continue to crack down on the practice.
Surrogacy, where a woman has a child for another, is widespread despite its illegality, the Beijing Times newspaper said yesterday.
It is estimated that 7 percent of China's couples of childbearing age are infertile, the newspaper said. The number was increasing by 20 percent a year, and in the capital more than 20,000 couples had legal in vitro fertilization last year.
The ministry issued the first law on assisted fertility in 2001 but it didn't cover surrogacy, the legal status of surrogate mothers, or how to adopt the babies they give birth to, the newspaper quoted Qiao Jie, an expert in reproductive medicine and president of the Third Hospital of Peking University, as saying.
Qiao said surrogacy could cause a series of complicated social problems and the practice could only be made legal after the law had been perfected.
Beijing Television said the ministry had launched a nationwide campaign against illegal assisted fertility including surrogacy and the illegal trading of sperm and eggs.
By the end of last year, China had approved 358 facilities offering assisted fertility techniques while 17 sperm banks had been set up, according to the TV report.
But, driven by profits, such techniques were illegally used in surrogacy, with the illegal collection of sperm and trading of human eggs. Some medical staff were found to be involved in those illegal activities, the ministry said.
The possibility of surrogacy being made legal has become a hot topic online.
"If there are laws to legalized surrogacy, some women may be turned into machines to bear children," was one comment.
"Poor people will then have to bear babies for rich ones," was another.
However, the idea did have its backers. One supporter said surrogacy was acceptable to "save families suffering infertility." The comment added: "There are so many families suffering infertility, and without the surrogacy business they may face divorce."
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