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Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Legislation on reproductive medicine should put children’s welfare first

There have been rapid advances in assisted reproductive medicine, such as improved techniques for achieving pregnancy via eggs or sperm donated by third parties and for surrogate motherhood. Broad-based discussion is required for improving legislation on these topics.

The Liberal Democratic Party’s project team, comprised of members of the health, labor and welfare division and judicial affairs division, has compiled a bill to be related to the Civil Code regarding assisted reproductive medicine.

The major pillar of the bill is a stipulation that, regarding childbirth achieved via donor eggs, the woman who gives birth must be recognized as the baby’s mother. The party plans to submit the bill to the current Diet session.

The Civil Code did not contemplate childbirth through assisted reproductive medicine involving third parties, and it has no clear stipulations regarding the relationship between a child and the parents in such circumstances.

We can understand the LDP’s aim of stabilizing the law’s treatment of the parent-child relationship from a viewpoint of child welfare, by establishing a new law beside the Civil Code. Many people will probably agree with a rule that the woman who actually gives birth with the will to raise the baby must be recognized as the baby’s mother, rather than the “genetic mother” who donates eggs.

Meanwhile, in the case of surrogacy, which involves a third-party woman who gives birth using an egg from the wife and the sperm of her husband, a parent-child relationship between the wife and the child cannot be recognized.

As the Supreme Court has handed down a judgment similar to this, the bill has come in line with this way of thinking.

The Japan Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology has made clear through announcements and other means that it does not approve of in vitro fertilization using donor eggs nor surrogate pregnancy in Japan.

But legal provisions have yet to be drafted concerning assisted reproductive medicine. The LDP’s team has put off formulating any concrete statutory rules on these issues for now.

Techniques outpace laws

It was made known last month that there have been in vitro fertilizations using eggs donated by volunteers for women with an ovarian disorder. The fertilizations were carried out under the auspices of a nonprofit organization established by a doctor engaged in fertility treatment and a group of patients.

This development reveals the real state of affairs: Practical efforts on the medical frontier have been going ahead while there are no statutory rules in place. It is estimated that each year more than 100 Japanese women give birth to babies conceived overseas using donor eggs.

Regarding surrogate pregnancy, incidents have occurred overseas such as a couple refusing to accept a baby born to a surrogate because of a possible disability or a surrogate mother refusing to hand over the baby. An arrangement under which a stable upbringing of a child is ensured is essential.

As for the use of donor sperm, an established fertility treatment, there has been a growing number of cases in recent years in which the resulting child wants to know his or her genetic father.

There is concern that should sperm donors be identified, sperm donations will decline. It is necessary to further discuss the issue of what to do with information regarding the origins of those who are born through assisted reproductive technology.

Amid an increase in the number of women having babies later in life, there are many couples who want to take advantage of assisted reproductive medicine.

Is it allowable, however, to have third parties assume physical burdens in the first place, such as pregnancy and childbirth or donation of eggs? It is essential to discuss these fundamental issues. The most important thing is to have a perspective that puts top priority on the happiness of those children to be born through reproductive medicine.


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