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FEATURE/'We traveled thousands of miles for a child' -- is Taiwan ready for surrogacy?

06/15/2024 07:25 PM
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Lin reads a picture book with his son An, who was born through a surrogate mother, at his souvenir shop in New Taipei. CNA photo June 15, 2024
Lin reads a picture book with his son An, who was born through a surrogate mother, at his souvenir shop in New Taipei. CNA photo June 15, 2024

[Editor's Note: This is part 1 of a two-part feature looking into Taiwan's debate on amending the Assisted Reproduction Act, which took effect in 2007. Read part 2 here.]

By Evelyn Yang, CNA staff writer

A 3-year-old boy of Ukrainian-Taiwanese descent with brown hair runs around a souvenir shop playing with his toy cars in New Taipei, accompanied by his Taiwanese parents who look at him adoringly.

The boy, An, is biologically related only to his father, identified as Lin (林). He was born through surrogacy using an egg from a Ukrainian woman and carried by another Ukrainian surrogate mother.

An is one of dozens of children in Taiwan born through overseas surrogacy. People are forced to seek the service abroad as it remains illegal in Taiwan.

"We were in our 50s and really wanted a child," Lin said during a recent interview with CNA. "Adoption wasn't an option due to our age."

Following their search online, Lin and his wife contacted a hospital in Ukraine which they visited in 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic. After completing the process of purchasing eggs and selecting a surrogate mother, they brought their baby home 10 months later.

Lin praised Ukraine's well-organized surrogacy system but highlighted challenges during the 10-month wait, specifically the worries they experienced upon receiving their unborn son's regular health check results.

"If Taiwanese parents could access surrogacy locally, they wouldn't have to contend with language barriers or an added layer of uncertainty," Lin said.

But ultimately, changing the law will come down to whether the public can reach a consensus, he added.

The issue of surrogacy has long been controversial in Taiwan.

Since Taiwan began drafting the Assisted Reproduction Act in 1996, surrogacy has been under consideration. However, due to ethical disputes, it was excluded from regulations following the passage of the Act in 2007.

Surrogacy's inclusion in draft amendments

But things have changed. Following two public hearings in February and March, in mid-May the Ministry of Health and Welfare announced plans to amend the act and legalize surrogacy, but with stringent conditions.

Legislator Chen Gau-tzu points at the photos in her office. CNA photo June 15, 2024
Legislator Chen Gau-tzu points at the photos in her office. CNA photo June 15, 2024

A long-time advocate for legalizing surrogacy, Taiwan People's Party Legislator Chen Gau-tzu (陳昭姿) noted that the Taiwan government has been using "administrative orders" to stop surrogacy from taking place because the procedure itself is technically not illegal, it is healthcare workers that are restricted from facilitating it.

"The whole world has moved forward, whereas Taiwan has been stuck for 30 years," Chen argued.

"I remember when I first started pushing for this, maybe about a dozen countries were working toward legalizing and building an infrastructure to facilitate surrogacy," she said. "Now, it's probably over 30 or 40 countries."

She emphasized that Taiwan has expanded accessibility to assisted reproduction, so implementing surrogacy should not be difficult.

Chen, who has suffered from a congenital uterine anomaly since the age of 15, has advocated for infertile parents for three decades. She believes infertile couples should not be pressured into adoption and that everyone should have the choice of how to start a family.

Legislator Chen Gau-tzu (left) with her son and husband. Photo courtesy of Chen Gau-tzu June 15, 2024
Legislator Chen Gau-tzu (left) with her son and husband. Photo courtesy of Chen Gau-tzu June 15, 2024

Some gay parents also think surrogacy is necessary.

Gary, a gay dad, said he had always wanted a child and had always anticipated that Taiwan would one day allow surrogacy. Years ago, he even entered into a "fake marriage" with a lesbian partner but eventually decided it was not the best way forward due to potential complications arising from the marriage if the child were born.

The high cost for same-sex couples

Gary later began the journey to seek a surrogate mother in the United States in 2017. The first attempt failed, but he succeeded on the second try.

The surrogate gave birth to twin boys in 2019, after Gary and his partner Peter tied the knot that same year, following the legalization of same-sex marriage in Taiwan.

Despite enjoying a happy family life with their 5-year-old twins, Mayson and Samson, Gary said the path to get there was anything but smooth sailing.

"Samson was diagnosed with several rare diseases right after birth," Gary recalled, adding that the four surgeries within eight days and a five-month hospital stay in the U.S. for Samson had cost around NT$80 million (US$2.47 million).

Gary (left), Peter and their children Samson and Mayson at a park in Taipei. CNA photo June 15, 2024
Gary (left), Peter and their children Samson and Mayson at a park in Taipei. CNA photo June 15, 2024

"Actually, if we had been able to do this in Taiwan ... we wouldn't have had to endure such hardship," Gary added.

"Being able to do this in Taiwan would be the easiest option for people wanting to become parents," Peter said. "I understand people in different countries have different opinions on this issue, but our country already allows same-sex marriage ... I hope surrogacy will be possible at some point in the future."

Some women's groups and scholars are calling on lawmakers to address the issue of surrogacy separately through law amendments. They emphasized that many details about the process are yet to be adequately discussed with or communicated to the public.

Reese Li (黎璿萍), secretary-general of the Taiwan LGBT Family Rights Advocacy, noted the importance of protecting "everyone involved in the system" if laws are updated.

The law should ensure surrogate mothers and parents-to-be are taken care of while making sure the needs of the future baby are prioritized, Li said. "We also need to determine the responsibilities of the agencies and the types of services they should provide," she added.

Secretary-general of the Taiwan LGBT Family Rights Advocacy Reese Li. CNA photo June 15, 2024
Secretary-general of the Taiwan LGBT Family Rights Advocacy Reese Li. CNA photo June 15, 2024

The U.S.-based Reproductive Sciences Medical Center, which has extensive experience assisting Taiwanese parents with surrogacy in the U.S., told CNA that careful recruitment in surrogacy was important.

Thorough health checks, privacy rights for clients and surrogates, addressing the child's legal status, and providing social support were also crucial, it said.

According to the health ministry's draft amendments to the Assisted Reproduction Act, one individual in the couple must be under 50 years old and all women involved must have a health concern that makes pregnancy impossible.

This proposal is now open for public feedback until July 13, with the aim of undergoing Cabinet review by the end of this year.

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