Sat, Aug 11, 2012 - Page 3 News List

DOH seeks public panel on surrogate births

BIRTH RIGHTS?Legal controls over the use of controversial surrogate mothers have remained locked in dispute for seven years, prompting the call for a new focus group

By Ho Yi  /  Staff reporter

In a bid to gauge public opinion on the ongoing controversy surrounding the 2005 surrogacy bill put forward by the Department of Health, the department’s Bureau of Health Promotion has called on academics to organize a focus group eight years after a public panel officially endorsed surrogate motherhood.

“The public’s attitude and perception concerning the issues may have changed after so many years. Meanwhile, discussion of the surrogacy policy still elicits polarized opinions from different groups,” bureau deputy director Kung Hsien-lan (孔憲蘭) said. “So we think it is time to hold another panel at which participants can engage in in-depth discussions on specific issues.”

In 2004, the panel came to a clear position on the issue and urged the government to legalize and regulate the practice. A year later, the department initiated the drafting of the surrogacy bill. However, the proposed legislation has not yet been introduced to the legislature due to a lack of consensus on the issue.

“The first panel was open to all possible related issues and problems, while the second one focuses on three major controversies with the proposed policy,” said Lin Kuo-ming (林國明), a National Taiwan University sociology associate professor who co-hosts the two panels.

One of the controversies lies in the 2004 panel’s proposal on the qualifications for surrogacy, adopted by the department, requiring that the married couple’s sperm and egg must be fertile and that only married women who cannot conceive due to illness or disease, or because they have had their uterus removed, are legally eligible to arrange surrogate pregnancies.

Opposing views said the regulations should be loosened to allow donor sperm and eggs. A related issue to be examined is whether or not the surrogate mother can also be the egg donor, Lin said.

However, single and same-sex surrogacy rights are not included on the panel’s agenda, Lin added.

Another key point of contention involves the complex obligations and rights of the parties involved, such as whether the surrogate mother can make medical decisions regarding the pregnancy on her own and whether the intended parents have the right to decide the method of giving birth as well as their rights to ask the surrogate mother to follow a specific diet.

The issue of commercialization of surrogate motherhood has also generated much debate and, to avoid the exploitation of women from lower social classes, the proposed legislation prohibits surrogate mothers from profiting from the surrogacy and limits surrogacy agency to non-profit organizations.

“Some people are questioning if the operation can be viable without sufficient resources,” Lin said.

To ensure the panel’s impartiality and diverse composition, a consulting committee made up of seven academics and professionals will randomly choose 20 members from applicants to include people from different age groups, educational levels, social classes and residential locations.

A preparatory meeting will be held on Sept. 8 and 9, while the formal meeting will be held on Sept. 22, 23 and 29. During the meetings, participants will be provided with written materials regarding related issues, attend courses on a range of subjects held by experts and engage in discussions, Lin said.

The conclusions from the forums will be written into a report for the government’s reference in policymaking.

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