Intermediary agencies that facilitate surrogate pregnancies have emerged in eastern China’s Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces.
A Shanghai Morning Post reporter went undercover to find out more about these agencies that typically only have virtual offices on the Web. The reporter contacted two agencies posing as a potential customer and surrogate mother.
The report was published on May 22 and the following are the key findings of the investigation.
Women who apply to be surrogate mothers are classified into nine groups according to their appearance, educational background and other aspects, and paid accordingly, usually between 40,000 and 100,000 yuan. They reportedly sign a payment agreement with the agencies. But legal experts say that agreements signed between the agencies and surrogate mothers have no legal effect, making it difficult to protect surrogate mothers' rights and interests should anything go awry.
Ms Lai, a surrogacy agent in Shanghai, said that a surrogate mother with a junior college certificate can expect to be paid 100,000 yuan (US$12,077) in fees, which is what those in the business call “compensation for the heart of God”. Payment is made in cash and excludes living expenses, accommodation, medical examinations, delivery fees and other related expenses.
Lai said that one surrogate mother was recently paid 120,000 yuan (US$14,500). She was a university graduate, and apparently young and beautiful.
According to Lai, the procedure to become a surrogate mother is fairly straightforward. The potential surrogate mother fills in a form, giving personal information including name, age, height, weight, educational level and marital status.
After a gynecological check-up, the agent arranges a meeting between the surrogate mother and customer, usually within a day or two.
For customers seeking surrogate mothers, the waiting period for a suitable candidate can take as long as two months. They have to pay agents 1,000 yuan (US$121) before they can look at photographs of candidates.
All in all, a customer would spend between 130,000 and 140,000 yuan (US$15,700-16,908) for the deal; 100,000 yuan in fees to the surrogate mother, 14,000 yuan to the agency, and the rest to cover the surrogate's medical and living expenses.
Lai said that her company doesn’t have an office address because all communications are by telephone and meetings can take place anywhere.
There is a fair amount of information to be found on such agencies' websites. They describe two methods of effecting a surrogate pregnancy; either artificially inseminating the surrogate with both the sperm and ovum of the customer couple, or with only the sperm. Mr Liu, owner of the second agency, said that the artificial insemination procedure is done in "regular hospitals and is absolutely safe".
Asked if impregnation through sexual intercourse was a possibility, Liu said it isn't because none of the parties would agree to it.
The two agencies investigated claimed that they do not accept sex workers or those who work in establishments that offer sexual services as potential surrogates. They also stressed that potential applicants do so voluntarily.
One of the agencies had 113 names on their surrogates list, the oldest being 34 and the youngest 19. More than half of those registered have a college or junior college education, two thirds are unmarried, and half of the remaining one third are divorced. Most of the applicants are from outside Shanghai.
Lai and Liu had similar stories to tell when asked what inspired them to start such an agency. They both said that they had a friend who was deserted by her husband because she couldn't have children, and her miserable experiences made them want to help women in similar predicaments.
Further, they stressed that the practice is not illegal, adding that it’s "a loving care activity".
Liu said that his company has successfully handled over 20 cases so far, while Lai reckons her agency signs an agreement every three or four days.
Both also said that business in Shanghai is good where demand is high.
Ge Shannan, a lawyer and expert in the field of women's and children’s rights with Shenhui Lawyer’s Office, said that there are no relevant laws or regulations that cover surrogate pregnancies. This is because legislation typically always lags behind real life. “That means such activities are not under the umbrella of legal protection,” Ge said. She added that since the surrogate agreement does not have legal effect, any suits brought in the event of breach will not be handled by the courts.
Xia Hua, another lawyer with Zhengyi Huaxia Lawyer’s Office, stressed that “not all the things in demand are reasonable and legal”.
Regulations Concerning Human-Assisted Reproduction Technology issued by the Ministry of Health in 2001 stipulate that any medical establishment that performs operations for the purposes of effecting a surrogate pregnancy should be punished.
On the Internet forums, the topic is also hotly debated with more users voting against surrogacy. Many call it “renting a belly”, while others have condemned it as being no different from taking a concubine if sexual intercourse is involved. In a recent online survey, 51 percent of respondents said the practice is an abominable one, and relevant laws should be drafted to prohibit it.
(China.org.cn by Zhang Tingting, June 5, 2006)