Chinese director and actress Xu Jinglei recently faced criticism for having her eggs frozen in the United States in July. In China, as an unmarried woman, she is prohibited from freezing her eggs.
“The only thing I regret is that I am a little bit late in doing so,” Xu, 41, said, adding that storing the eggs was the only way for her to halt potential regret if her decline in fertility prevented her from having a baby with a future husband.
Learn more about this law and why it was implemented:
hat is the Chinese law on egg freezing?
According to the Ministry of Health, unmarried women in China are not allowed to use “assisted reproductive technology” to preserve their fertility.
Married women can only freeze their eggs if they provide a marriage certificate, identity cards, and birth permits. They must also prove that at least one spouse is suffering from fertility difficulties and that a husband cannot provide sperm on the day that eggs are harvested, or a wife has healthy ovaries and wants to preserve her eggs before undergoing cancer treatment or radiation therapy.
Lin Ge, deputy head of the Reproductive and Genetic Hospital of Citic-Xiangya, said the technology started in the 1990s and has mainly been used in conjunction with in-vitro fertilization (IVF). Many single women have been able to get their eggs frozen in China’s hospitals under the argument that egg freezing does not involve IVF and is not considered an “assisted reproductive technology.”
Li Rong, a doctor with the reproduction center at Peking University Third Hospital, said an increasing number of women have come to her seeking information on assisted reproductive technology.
“Most are aged above 35 and are worried about declining egg quality and the inevitable infertility that will come as they grow older. They hope to freeze their young eggs and give birth to healthy children later,” Li said.
“Though the technique was introduced to China some ten years ago, it has not been widely promoted,” Li added. She said the university’s reproduction center has carried out fewer than 100 procedures.
hy does China prohibit single women from freezing their eggs?
The prohibition is meant to prevent the black market trade of human eggs. Many infertile couples in China seek ova but there are a limited number available. The shortage has led to a thriving black market for human eggs.
China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission (link in Chinese) recently issued a prohibition against couples seeking surrogates to give birth. The prohibition says that it’s illegal to find a woman to serve as a surrogate. It could also violate China’s one-child policy, which is still in force.
hat are the healths risks in egg freezing?
Li Mei, the head of the advanced laboratory of the Reproductive Hospital affiliated with Shandong University told the Chinese daily, the Global Times, that the technology said the technology needs more time.
“The technology still faces challenges despite its high success rate,” the article said.
Experts have compared the health of naturally born babies and children born from frozen eggs and have not found great differences, however, the long-term effects of the technology is still unknown. In China, the oldest child born from a frozen egg is only 12 years old, Xinhua reported.
Chinese doctors caution that “egg harvesting can be problematic for women with existing health conditions,” reports Xinhua. “A low success rate is another reason why the practice is not widely used, according to Lu Qun, director of assisted reproduction center at Sichuan Provincial People’s Hospital. Embryo freezing has a success rate over 60 percent, but less than 50 percent of frozen eggs are viable,” Xinhua adds.
Some doctors have also found that women who undergo egg freezing are at greater risk for hypertension and diabetes.
hat does this policy mean for China?
More women in China are choosing to delay marriage or remain single, according to China’s National Bureau of Statistics, yet China’s one-child policy is only for couples. At least 10 Chinese women have traveled to the United States in the past year to get their eggs frozen through the international organization, the Egg Freezing Center.
Additionally, the National Health and Family Planning Commission has suggested that women should get pregnant in their prime child-bearing years, between 24-29, and said that pregnancy over 35 can be dangerous to both mother and fetus. This places many single women who want to have children in a bind.
Story compiled with information from Xinhua and CCTV News. Photos by CFP.