Surrogacy is to become legal in Vietnam from 2015 under the revised Law on Marriage and Family but the issue is, unsurprisingly, surrounded by controversy.
After much debate, the draft law on surrogacy was finally ratified by the National Assembly at the end of June, with 59.1 per cent of votes being in favour. The new law has humanist ideals, providing the legal backing for couples unable to have children by natural or artificial means to engage a surrogate.
Vietnam’s infertility rate is approximately 8 per cent of the population and has increased in recent years, according to Deputy Minister of Health and Director of Hanoi’s National Hospital of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (NHOG), Nguyen Viet Tien. Having unsuccessfully gone through fertility programmes, surrogacy is literally the last hope for many couples.
While the practice has been banned in the country, many desperate couples have accessed the “black market” for surrogates or headed to countries that permit the practice. Both methods are expensive and come with little in the way of legal protection when agreements between parties are broken.
Sociologist Le Thi Quy, Head of the Institute of Gender Economic Development, said that she supported the law as there is real demand within society. Until now, couples have been forced into the shadows when seeking a surrogate, which comes with many risks. The new law will help them to go about having a child legally and provide them with full protection. “The most important purpose of a society is to bring happiness to its members,” she said. “This law does that, so it should be supported.”
The new law provides hope for all infertile couple where previously there was almost none. Ms Bao Anh could not stop crying tears of joy upon hearing the news. “After years of waiting, I’d become worried that I’d be too old by the time the law was changed,” she said. “I can’t believe it. From the bottom of my heart, I give my sincere thanks to our lawmakers.”
Ms Bao Anh had undergone many treatment programmes and even surgery but had still failed to fall pregnant. She had sought a surrogate mother, but it was difficult and she felt uneasy. Some asked for a payment that was beyond her means, while others she deemed inappropriate because of their poor health. “I was tired and stressed from going through such a stealthy process,” she said. “The new law has opened a new door of hope for women like me who cannot fall pregnant. And I won’t have to worry anymore about being arrested.”
Expressing sympathy for infertile women, Ms Mai Hanh very much agrees with the new law. “As a mother, I understand well that a woman’s natural aspiration is to have a baby,” she said. “Those who are unable to fall pregnant must cry themselves to sleep at night.” Society and lawmakers must help the unfortunate, and in this case it is what has happened. “If I could help other women by bearing her child in my womb, I would be willing to do it,” she said.
Also speaking in support, Mr Le Hoang said that children are the key factor in the attachment between husband and wife. Children are also the future and the hope of each and every generation. Legal surrogacy, he believes, plays a humanist role in modern life given that infertility rates are increasing in many countries. Vietnam has therefore made the right decision.
To pursue surrogacy in a humanist manner and to avoid any possible commercial abuse, a surrogate mother must be a relative of either the wife or the husband under the new law. Surrogate mothers must have had a child already and are permitted to be a surrogate just once, to protect her health. If she is married, agreement must be given by her husband, to protect his rights. According to Mr Nguyen Quang Huy, Director of the Department of Legislation at the Ministry of Health, surrogacy involving a relative of the couple represents a commonsense approach, because the family attachment allows them to more easily sympathise and help each other.
These terms, however, limit the chances for many couples.
Ms Bao Anh said that asking a relative to become a surrogate mother is much more difficult than asking a stranger. She once asked her younger sister, who had two children, if she would be willing to be a surrogate mother for her. Her sister agreed to help, but her husband and mother-in-law did not. “I can understand why,” she said. “To be honest, I would prefer to use a service that involved a stranger rather than asking a relative.” If it was a stranger, she would only need to care for her during the pregnancy and pay her after the birth. There would be no more further contact. If a relative was to be the surrogate, she would always be worried about potential problems, such as the surrogate mother seeking a greater role in the child’s life or the child being distressed upon finding out the truth.
Of a similar mind, Ms Xuan Hoa, another woman who had undergone programmes to fall pregnant, said she would be willing to pay a large sum to a surrogacy service rather than ask a relative for help. In using such a service she could keep the matter secret avoid any negative reaction from society. “Vietnamese people still find it hard to accept unnatural and unusual things,” she said. “I want my child to have a normal life and not suffer from prying eyes.”
While these terms are a point of contention for many, there are others who oppose the law altogether. Most view surrogacy as being at odds with Vietnamese culture and morality. Ms Thu Van, a mother of two sons, said it was inhumane to separate a mother from her child. “Even if the child doesn’t have the genes of the surrogate mother, he or she is nourished by her own flesh and blood,” she said. “After nine months of pregnancy and the pain of delivery, all mothers have a strong attachment and love for their baby, I believe. So surrogacy affects not only the physical but also the spiritual health of the surrogate mother.”
Agreeing, Mr Huy Khanh, an unmarried man, said that if his future wife was unable to fall pregnant he would convince her to look into adoption rather than surrogacy. ‘Surrogacy is not the best option,” he said. “There are many abandoned or orphaned children just waiting for love and warmth. And the adopted child would love and respect his or her foster parents.” He also wondered what would happen if the child was to suffer from birth defects.
There are legitimate questions over the possibility of disputes after birth or complications in the relationship between child, parents and surrogate mother when a relative is involved. But the law will come into effect next year, and infertile couples seeking surrogacy are jumping for joy at the prospect of becoming parents.