China officially launched a two-child policy on January 1st, 2016, replacing a decades old one-child policy which was originally intended to curb population growth.
Now finding itself with a large aging population, and facing potentially disastrous economic implications, China hopes to encourage a new generation of productive citizens with its two-child policy.
Since the introduction of gestational surrogacy in the mid-1980s, wealthy Chinese families had used foreign surrogacy agencies to try and help circumvent the one-child policy. This was often done in an effort to have male children, because males are typically regarded as heirs and family caretakers in Chinese tradition.
With the advent of social media, lower and middle-class Chinese internet users embarked on a campaign of viral outrage due to the rich and well-connected being granted official exemption to population control policies.
The Chinese Health Ministry banned doctors from practicing gestational surrogacy in 2001. However, this was a ministry rule and not an enforceable law. As a result, many doctors and other, less qualified individuals simply ignored it. This situation persists to the present day.
The viral campaign came to a head in 2011, with the widespread distribution of the image in this article. It features a wealthy couple's eight surrogate-born siblings. As a result, China's new two-child policy was initially drafted with a complete, legal and official ban on any use of surrogacy services.
In a surprisingly public decision, The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, China’s main law-making body, reversed the draft legislation for banning surrogacy. Chinese legislators reportedly feared driving the practice of surrogacy underground, as well as the possibility of foreign markets benefiting from the patronage of Chinese parents.
Unfortunately, the aforementioned Health Ministry ban on surrogacy services remains in effect, and Chinese surrogacy agencies are coming up short in want of such resources as modern fertility treatments and technology.
Ironically, following decades' worth of effort to slow population growth, the Chinese government is actually seeking to engineer a baby boom with the two-child policy. Success with an artificial boom, however, has so far proven to be elusive. At least one of the Chinese government's fears – that surrogacy services would be driven overseas – appears to be becoming an ever-increasing reality.
Dr. Jeffrey Steinberg is the Medical Director for the Encino, California-based center, The Fertility Institutes. He states that he has been contacted by nearly two dozen Chinese surrogacy agencies since the two-child policy was put into effect. “About 90% of them don't even have any patients,” says Dr. Steinberg. “They're just new agencies, hoping to make a buck off of China's new surrogate-friendly policy.”
Additionally, many American surrogacy agencies offer gender selection, which would allow Chinese parents to specifically choose male offspring. American surrogacy agencies are also able to pinpoint a variety of genetic abnormalities, including Tay-Sachs disease and muscular dystrophy, during the embryonic stage of development. While the medical industry in China possesses this level of sophistication at large, it is often unavailable to Chinese surrogacy agencies.
Finally, a child born on American soil is an American citizen, regardless of any other legal considerations. This status allows wealthy Chinese citizens to avail their children of the American education system, medical services, and other perks that are more difficult to obtain in China. The appeal is undeniable; some American surrogacy and egg donation agencies are seeing as much as 40% of their business coming from China.
It’s far too early to tell how the new two-child policy will affect China as a nation. In the short term, parents that lived through the one-child policy have begun protesting the changes, arguing that the previous policy had robbed them of their opportunity to have children. China is projected to have a population of 1.45 billion by 2050, facing concerns of a shrinking working force and a growing senior citizen population. As Chinese citizens look towards American surrogacy for their family planning, it will be interesting to see how these predictions change.