Debate Triggered by Convict's Wife Wanting Artificial Insemination

On August 8, 2001, Zheng Xueli, a young woman from Zhejiang Province, whose husband had been sentenced to death, told officials she wanted to be impregnated by her husband through artificial insemination. This unusual request has attracted wide attention and triggered heated debate. When a person loses his freedom because of his illegal actions, is the right of his spouse to bear a child guaranteed?

Zheng's husband, Luo Feng, a company employee, killed Wang, a colleague, in a fight over trivial matters on May 29. Zhejiang Zhoushan Intermediate People's Court sentenced Luo to death in the first trial on August 7. The following day, Luo lodged an appeal to Zhejiang Higher People's Court, and his wife sought permission from both Zhoushan Intermediate People's Court and Zhejiang Higher People's Court for artificial insemination. Zheng's request was rejected for the reason that there is no precedent for this.

On November 12, Zheng lodged a written appeal to Zhejiang Higher People's Court, asking for artificial insemination, and was told to wait for an answer after the judges' discussion, because there is no law related to such a case. Zhejiang Higher People's Court is now waiting for an opinion from the Supreme People's Court, and Zheng is anxiously looking forward to the second judgment on her husband and the reply to her request for artificial insemination.

An official from the Supreme People's Court said, that as a special case, it is worthy of concern, as the Marriage Law and other laws have no judicial interpretation on a citizen's right to bear children. The Law on the Protection of the Rights and Interests of Women only stipulates that women have the right to give birth to children. In addition, it will bring about many negative impacts if artificial insemination is allowed for a convict awaiting the death penalty. A draft of the Law on Population and Family Planning, which is under examination, stipulates that a citizen's right to bear a child is protected by law, but it is not clear whether or not this includes convicts given the death penalty.

Zhou Zhenxiang, a professor at China Youth Institute of Political Science, said the right to bear a child is a component of human rights. By law, rights enjoyed by citizens include the right to bear children. But in China or in other countries, there are still no laws concerning convicts' rights of bearing children.

Some law experts noted that Zheng's request, which has raised new questions to judicial departments, is of constructive significance. But others said Zheng made her decision on impulse, and it is neither realistic nor reasonable.

Her Choice Should Be Respected

Liu Renwen (associate research fellow of Criminal Law Research Office of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences): In my opinion, Zeng's request should be permitted, because anything, which is not banned by law can be regarded as legal. In addition, it is in line with the principle of "being conducive to defendants," which is wildly adopted in Western countries. The rights of convicts should be fully protected, so long as the request is not contradictory to law. This is also a trend of our country's legal construction. With modern science and technology, artificial insemination does not affect Luo's imprisonment and enforcement of the death penalty. Why is it not allowed? In the United States, there are prisons where convicts can live with their spouses. China also has some prisons of this type.

Lu Ning (China Youth Daily): We shouldn't denounce the intermediate court for its rebuffing of Zheng's request. It is also understandable that the higher court has not yet given an answer to Zheng, because her request has touched a blank area of the existing law and judicial practice. If Zheng's request is approved, more convicts or their spouses may follow suit. Will that tally with traditional ethic codes and people's emotions?

To be prudent, the higher court has not given an immediate answer to Zheng, whereas I'm pleased with Zheng's courage. Breaking the yoke of prejudice and traditions, she should be hailed whether her request is approved or not. This case showed that the efforts of 15 years in spreading knowledge of laws and legal concepts have paid off. People's awareness of protecting their rights under law has been strengthened. It has also profiled China's social progress.

As Luo was sentenced to death in the first trial and his freedom was deprived, it is impossible for him to have a child in a natural way. According to the present law, when a convict has been deprived of his political rights, he still enjoy other rights. Through technology, the artificial insemination method can make Luo's wife pregnant without violating prison regulations. It will satisfy Zheng's desire of being a mother.

Given the human nature of law, the request of Luo's wife is not unreasonable. The right to have a child can be realized only through cooperation between husband and wife. The current laws do not deprive a convict of the right to have a child. Even if there is such a law, the convict's spouse still retains the right to have a child.

While upholding the idea of legally governing a country, we should not simply and mechanically follow the law, regardless of the reasons behind it. Respect for the nature of humankind is the mainstay of all countries in their law enforcement. As a convict given the death penalty is allowed to donate his organs, why can't he donate his sperm to his wife?

Wang Lisheng (Teacher at Beijing Teachers' University): We are living in a time when marriage is increasingly effected by economic factors. Zheng's request reflects her love for her husband. Even if it is an impulsive action, she surely bears strong affection for her husband, which should not be denounced. Society should support her choice.

Zheng Xueli (Luo Feng's wife): Some media reports said I tried to save my husband by requesting artificial insemination. But I have never had such an idea, and I didn't know I was the first to propose it.

Both Luo and I like children very much. Just before the incident happened, he bought a lot of nutritious food for me, including herbal liquid for women. He told me that after I eat them all and become stronger, we would have a child.

Luo is not in low spirits in prison, because he loves me deeply. Similarly, to increase his hope for life, I firmly asked for artificial insemination between my husband and me.

My parents-in-law are very nice to me, and I want to give them a grandson. When they learnt of my decision, my mother-in-law stared at me wordlessly. She thought there must be something wrong with my mind. They do not agree with me, as they are afraid of burdening me. I heard the first judgment at three o'clock, and I told them my decision by phone at six o'clock.

I delivered my written appeal to the court, which made the first trial. But I was told there are no related laws to follow, and in Zhoushan there are no conditions available to carry out artificial insemination. On November 11, I lodged a written appeal to the Zhejiang Higher People's Court. I was told that my request would be discussed and considered. I hope that, after Luo Feng dies, I will still have something of him-his child. Nowadays, there are many single-parent families, and I do not fear hardship.

Better Not to Bear A Child

Zhang Xiaodong (a kindergarten teacher): Zheng's decision is unfair to the child she will give birth to. Keeping in mind ethical ideology, a child should enjoy the love of both a mother and father. It is not responsible to let a child lose his father even before he is conceived.

Apart from this, a single-parent family is not conducive to the growth of a child, let alone living under the shadow as the child of a convict who died from capital punishment. It is better to give up any plan that has more negative than positive outcomes.

Yang Hongda (Research Fellow at China Law Application Research Institution of the Supreme People's Court): I totally disagree with remarks that requesting artificial insemination shows the strengthening of people's awareness to protect their rights and interests before the law. The spreading of legal knowledge has made substantial progress, but some requests are excessive. Zheng's issue should not be discussed from a legal perspective, for it does not belong to the scope of a citizen's right. When a person is in prison, he will be deprived of freedom, and his civil and legal relations with the outside world will be cut off. Under such a situation, how can the couple enjoy the right to have a child?

As for Luo's wife, she certainly has the right to bear a child. But in a case where one side is willing to bear a child through artificial insemination, and the other side is not, what should be done? Should we force one partner to protect the other's right to have a child? We should fully take into account a criminal's special environment. Balance is always considered when a law is drafted. Hence, it is impossible to meet all individual requirements.

It is a problem caused by the criminal, rather than the law. A criminal's spouse has to therefore bear the suffering caused by the criminal.

(Beijing Review December 24, 2001)

In This Series

More Care for Chinese Women and Children

Urban Women Under Tremendous Pressure

Marriage Law to Better Protect Women and Children

Women’s Choice: Home or Work?

Education Helps Chinese Women

Legal Aid for Women Effective


Crime: Getting to Grip With Problems

Criminals Given Just Sentences

Making Things Better for Women


The Situation of Chinese Women

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