Thirty years ago, when testtube babies were unknown in Taiwan, we often had to bear witness to the tragedy that played out when a woman could not become pregnant, a situation that often led to conflict with in-laws and divorce if a husband wanted a wife who could give him an heir. Taiwanese women had to go through great suffering as a result of the nation’s conservative traditions.
Taiwan’s first successful test-tube pregnancy was in 1985. Since then I have often had to try to save premature twins or triplets, but every time these premature babies left the hospital, I could also see the joy and happiness of mothers who otherwise could not have become pregnant.
Religious people sometimes talk about how surrogate pregnancy means that a woman’s uterus is being used as a mere reproduction tool, but from the perspective of modern reproductive medicine, the uterus is but nature’s own incubator.
At the moment when an egg is fertilized, its genetic makeup and future has been determined, and surrogate pregnancy is nothing more than a follow-up on the in vitro procedure by placing the egg in an external incubator — in this case, another woman’s uterus.
From the perspective of modern genetics, as long as the procedure is legal, there is no need to add any religiously founded restrictions to it.
Seventeen years ago, one of my patients who was unable to become pregnant became increasingly depressed as the result of pressure from a husband who was an only child, and an unreasonable mother-in-law.
In the end, the woman committed suicide.
Following this tragedy, I began to take a sympathetic and supportive view of surrogate pregnancies. Today, almost two decades later, Taiwan’s hesitation in the face of surrogate motherhood is hurting women, and this is unjust.
Two years ago, my nephew, who is studying to become a dentist in the US, enjoyed the benefits of the procedure. His wife had injured her spine in a car accident before they were married and her orthopedist and gynecologist thought that she would not be able to give birth.
After several psychiatric evaluations and testimony given by lawyers, the sister-in-law of my nephew’s wife served as a surrogate mother and gave birth to twins. This Thanksgiving, six adults and six children will be gathering at my home to give thanks to the fact that the US has a strict system for surrogate pregnancy in place.
Taiwan should make an effort to follow suit.
When Australian actress Nicole Kidman visited war-torn Kosovo in her status as UN goodwill ambassador in 2006, she said that she could “be a voice for you if you need it.”
I would like to tell the 5,000 or 6,000 women in Taiwan who are in need of a surrogate mother that “I can be a voice for you if you need me to,” to help you move beyond the tragedy of not being able to become pregnant, a tragedy that is only made worse by the traditional focus on “blood ties” at the cost of family ties.
Mayo Kuo is a Taiwan-based pediatrician.
Translated by Perry Svensson