Earlier this month, Minister of Health and Welfare Hsueh Jui-yuan (薛瑞元) made a surprise announcement that the ministry is working on an amendment to the Assisted Reproduction Act (人工生殖法) to legalize surrogacy in Taiwan. They were the minister’s first positive comments on the controversial issue, having previously said he had “no fixed position” on surrogacy. It also marks the first meaningful progress on the issue in the two decades it has been up for debate.
For those who might be worried that decisions are happening too fast, rest assured that there is still a long way to go. After two-and-a-half years of meetings with legal experts, doctors, women’s and children’s advocates, and anyone else with something at stake, the health ministry said it has finally come up with an acceptable framework, sans legal details. A draft is to be submitted in the first half of next year, followed by 60 days of public feedback and more reviews before it is sent to the Cabinet for approval by the end of next year. After that, it is ultimately up to the legislature whether surrogacy is legalized, with Hsueh saying the ministry would “respect their choice” if lawmakers decide to keep the ban.
The issue is fraught for a reason. There is a very real concern that lower-income women could be exploited by wealthier couples, potentially harming their mental and physical health, even if all parties agree to the arrangement at the outset. It also poses a legal minefield when it comes to the rights of the biological parents, surrogate and infant. Robust legal frameworks are essential to safeguard the rights of all those involved, in addition to robust medical and psychological support throughout the process. It will not be easy, but that does not mean it should not be done.
In explaining his change of heart, Hsueh said that the ministry was eyeing legalization to give the public more choice. For all its potential pitfalls, surrogacy is still the best option for some couples and surrogates. It is the government’s job to support and protect them, not dictate what people can or cannot do with their bodies. Considering the time the ministry has taken and will continue to take in drafting this bill, it appears to be doing its due diligence in considering all angles.
Slipping under the radar amid the clamor over surrogacy is another, absolutely critical change to the Assisted Reproduction Act: expanded eligibility for same-sex couples and single women. The way it is currently written, the act defines eligibility extremely narrowly as only married, heterosexual couples in which one spouse has been diagnosed with infertility or a major hereditary disease, and the other possesses healthy reproductive cells. Even for a law promulgated in 2007, these criteria sound antiquated.
For all the societal panic around Taiwan’s falling birthrate and super-aging society, it is about time the law is changed to allow the capable and willing people in these groups to become parents. While surrogacy is fraught for a reason, there is nothing fraught about enabling a loving parent or parents to start a family, especially with all the ink that has been spilled on ways to boost the birthrate.
In reality, the only way to solve this problem is a network of interrelated policies that includes more than just financial support for parents, but also job flexibility, stable housing, societal acceptance of nontraditional families, liberalized immigration and more. Enabling people to have children through whatever means are available is one of the most direct policies in the government’s toolkit, as well as something it should champion in a liberal society.
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