After years of fruitless bickering over the legalization of surrogate motherhood, a panel made up of 20 members of the public advising the Department of Health met last weekend to thrash out a position on the issue.
"Before the public says yes or no to such personal issues, we need to ensure that every voice is heard," said Lin Kuo-ming (
Since the first of the nation's test-tube babies was born 19 years ago, the government has introduced regulations for artificial insemination to bring the country's legal system up to speed with medical advances and social change.
The Guidelines for the Ethics of Human Procreation and Reproductive Technologies (
In both laws, however, the controversial issue of surrogate motherhood was omitted.
The department played down the exclusion, asserting that "surrogate motherhood, at odds with current social mores and the legal system, and involving complex obligations and rights, should be temporarily left out," in an explanation on its Web site.
Despite the department's claim, some academics have urged the public to look deeper into the debate. The ethical and legal conundrum revolves around whether it is justified realizing the dreams of childless couples at the cost of reducing human relations to financial transactions.
"If reproduction is one of the basic human rights, then the means of human reproduction should be included, by definition," said Chiu Ching-hwa (邱清華), honorary president of the Society of Law and Medicine. "The public aversion to surrogate motherhood comes from one simple idea -- we might endorse this right to reproduction, but we don't want this right to become a marketable good or service."
Perhaps the biggest surprise in this debate is that some feminists have themselves become the most vocal opponents. Some oppose legalization, contending that surrogate motherhood is a materialization of the female body by medical technology.
"When not an act of love or charity, bearing a baby for another woman implies that the uterus has become more a tool to earn money than an intimate space for a fetus," said Huang Hsu-ying (黃淑英), chairwoman of the League of Taiwan Women.
Some feminists also argue that the notion of the surrogate mother, far from liberating women from the century-old myth of lineage and consanguinity on which patriarchy is founded, entrenches hegemony instead.
"Why must a woman take up the role of childbearer? By reconsolidating the link between `woman' and `childbearer,' surrogate motherhood can turn out to be the accomplice of patriarchy," Huang said.
But for those women in agony over their infertility, theories of female oppression by technology and the female body as a "discourse" of ideology do not address the harsh reality they suffer.
Chen Gau-tzu (陳昭姿), chief pharmacist at Taipei's Koo Foundation Sun Yat-sen Cancer Center, and who once sought another woman to have a baby for her, rebutted the feminists' argument as "healthy women oppressing unhealthy women in the name of feminism."