Surrogate sweep comes up empty
Alerted by a report in a local Chinese newspaper, the Hongkou District Health Bureau swooped into an office building on Tianbo Road in Shanghai yesterday, looking for evidence of a secret business in surrogate mothering.
Officials found no sign of any illegal practice in the raid on the 10th-floor office. But they said they would continue to investigate the company, whose alleged activities were described by the Shanghai Evening Post.
Surrogates are women who are not genetically related to the babies they carry. They make an arrangement with clients who can not go through a pregnancy, or choose not to.
Commercial surrogacy is banned in China, but goes on through underground agencies. There are no firm statistics on how many surrogate cases are arranged in Shanghai.
Many such agencies advertise online. Shanghai Daily yesterday called one company in Beijing and was told it is an agency working with hospitals in the central city of Wuhan. It said its surrogacy business, started in 1994, has produced more than 3,000 births.
The Shanghai Evening Post visited the Tianbo Road company on Wednesday and said it used a trading company name as cover.
A woman surnamed Lai, described as being in charge of the agency, told the newspaper on the phone that success can be guaranteed in most cases, adding the agency "has good reputation after years in service."
The cost is about 500,000 yuan (US$73,650) including medical procedures, payment to the surrogate mother and agency fares, the newspaper said.
The newspaper saw two couples visit the company for consultation within 15 minutes.
According to the company's introduction materials, its business is centered in Shanghai and Wuhan.
"For those clients whose age below 35 years old, the surgery costs 60,000 yuan," said the material. "The cost will be raised by 10,000 yuan each time the client is one year older."
During the newspaper's investigation, a woman who identified herself as a surrogate mother showed up to talk to the company.
Calling herself "a volunteer," the woman, 30, said she was very poor back in her hometown in central China's Henan Province. She said she needs the money.
"I can not even pay formula milk for my own baby," said the woman.
She said she had successfully given birth to a baby for a couple, earning 150,000 yuan.
During her pregnancy, the woman said, the couple visited her and brought nourishment products.
"I am not worried that I would have affections with the baby I helped to bear," said the woman. "What would make me depressed is that the clients suddenly decide not to want the baby."
The surrogate mother might not get paid if the clients back out.
Local health officials said surrogacy is an area fraught with ethical and legal concerns. "Any professional facilities or staff involved in it will face penalties and even imprisonment," said Song Guofan, an official from Shanghai Health Bureau.
Song warned residents to avoid surrogacy, noting that any parties having a dispute with the service can hardly be protected by laws.