Modern science has done a lot to help adults who were once unable to produce children. But a fertility research group notes that many countries have passed laws to limit use of that technology.
The group, the International Federation of Fertility Societies, has ties to the World Health Organization. It reported that in 2013, most Southeast Asian nations and many Islamic countries bar unmarried women from using the new technology to have children.
The People’s Republic of China is among those governments that have banned single women from freezing their eggs for future use. This ban has led to a public debate in China. Those objecting the loudest are women who want reproductive rights. They want the right to decide on their own methods of family planning.
National debate over freezing eggs
This debate heated up when a Chinese actress, Xu Jinglei, reported that she had gone to the United States two years ago to have nine of her eggs frozen.
Xu Jinglei is 41 years old. She said her eggs were frozen so that she could possibly have her own children in the future – in her words, to save herself “an option.”
After news of her U.S. visit spread, China’s state media reported comments of Chinese health and family planning officials. They said that freezing ones eggs is considered an assisted reproductive treatment. They noted that it and other reproductive treatments are illegal for single women in China.
The health commission's rule took effect in 2003. It denies this treatment to "single women and couples and who are not in line with the nation's population and family planning regulation."
Some Chinese have come out against the ban. The writer and race car driver Han Han expressed his protest on Weibo, a popular social media site. He asked why a woman can't have a baby without being married. "Can't she use her own eggs?" he asked.
His reaction was widely shared by others on social media. Some people said the ban is a sign of "gender inequality since men in China are allowed to donate sperm."
Sperm and eggs not treated equally
Already, the ban has created problems for a Los Angeles reproductive clinic. The center had planned to advertise its egg-freezing treatment on Alibaba's group-buying website, Juhuasuan.
Last month, the same website successfully connected seven sperm banks in China to more than 22,000 men who offered to serve as sperm donors. However, the site is taking a more careful policy toward women's egg-freezing programs.
Melanie Lee of Alibaba Group says, "A Los Angeles clinic approached us, and, yeah, we had initial discussions, but nothing came out of those discussions." She adds, "I think we have to look at the regulations that are currently in place to see what the regulations will allow."
Freezing eggs is a practical insurance policy
A 26-year-old woman, who gave her name as C.C. Chen, is from Shaanxi Province. Ms. Chen says she would freeze her eggs if she had enough money for the treatment. She says it is a realistic and practical thing to do.
"Women these days face increased pressures from the society and work. They may suffer a greater chance of infertility when they get old. So, if we can freeze our eggs at a younger age, it will be very practical and a precautionary measure," she says.
Yaya Chen is a sociologist with the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences. She agrees that freezing eggs is like a reproductive insurance policy, for both single and married women. She adds that China should use the reproductive treatment and others to help deal with a falling birth rate and aging population.
She says, "I think restrictions should be fully relaxed to give single women rights to give birth either via assisted reproduction or by natural birth. Governments can provide some guidance but each woman should have absolute reproductive rights.”
In late 2013, the Chinese government began to ease its “One Child Policy.” Now, Chinese couples are legally permitted to have two children when at least one parent is an only child.
But that has so far failed to increase the birth rate. At the same time, other people wishing to have babies will face punishment and their children will be barred of Chinese citizenship.
There are other reasons why Chinese health officials argue against the egg-freezing procedure. One reason is the survival rate of the eggs. Some officials say that less than 50 percent of the eggs survive the process. Also, the cost of freezing eggs can be high.
The health commission told VOA that "the egg-freezing procedure falls in the category of the assisted reproductive treatment and is currently under a clinical study phase, whose development the commission will closely follow to ensure its safety and effectiveness."
In other parts of the world doctors are less concerned about the survival rate of frozen eggs. Hsin-fu Chen is a gynecologist with National Taiwan University Hospital in Taipei. He has this to say about the survival rate.
“The [egg-freezing] technique is very mature, so, the survival rate after thawing could be as high as 90 to 95 percent.”
I’m Anna Matteo.
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Words in This Story
fertility – n. the ability to produce young
reproductive – adj. relating to or involved in the production of babies
gynecologist – n. medical doctor of the scientific study of the reproductive system of women and its diseases
to bear children – v. the process of giving birth to children : childbearing – n./adj.
sperm – n. a cell that is produced by the male sexual organs and that combines with the female's egg in reproduction
practical – adj. relating to what is real rather than to what is possible or imagined