The Korea Herald


Sperm and egg trade, surrogacy back in spotlight

By Korea Herald

Published : Oct. 23, 2011 - 20:38

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Police find 29 arrangements of surrogate pregnancy, arrests organizer, two women for ova sales

Despite its illegality, the trade in sperm and eggs goes on, exploiting sterile couples’ desire to have children. A recent case has highlighted the issue once again.

On Sept. 30, the police arrested a 50-year-old man, surnamed Chung, for arranging a surrogate pregnancy for 200 million won ($173,000). He used a blog to recruit women wanting to become surrogates and infertile couples looking for surrogates.

Since 2008, he has arranged surrogacy procedures for 29 women. Of them, 11 succeeded in carrying children. Nine babies were born and two surrogates are currently expecting.

What put him in trouble was not the arrangements for all 29 women. The problem was with two of them, who conceived children with their own eggs, which were fertilized in vitro with sperm given by the fathers of the childless couples. The remaining seven surrogates did not use their own eggs. They just “lent” their wombs.

“He was accused of arranging egg sales. Two women used their own eggs as surrogates for other couples. These women were also booked without detention for selling their eggs for surrogacy,” a police officer on the case said.

Korea bans human egg sales outright, but there are no laws to regulate surrogacy or surrogacy arrangements, leaving them legally ambiguous.

According to the police, many internet sites seek women wanting to be surrogates as well as buyers and sellers of sperm or eggs.

Experts who claim surrogacy should not be left as an open secret but accepted as reality call for its legalization, citing fertility-challenged couples’ wishes for biological children.

In a parliamentary audit last month, Yoon Seok-yong, a lawmaker of the ruling Grand National Party, raised the issue of large hospitals being involved in what he claims is the illegal sperm trade. He said that some sperm banks, including those of Cha Hospital, Cheil Hospital and Seoul National Hospital, have given monetary compensation of up to 200,000 won ($170) to a sperm donor. Donated sperm is used for in vitro fertilization of eggs from fertile women wanting to have biological children.

The current bioethics law bans persons from giving or using sperm or eggs for profit or enticing their trade.

The hospitals insisted on innocence.

“The money is given to meet their actual expenses including transportation costs incurred to come to the hospital,” a spokesman for one of the hospitals said. “It is never an act of purchasing sperm.”

Arguably more controversial than sperm or egg transaction is surrogacy, in which a woman carries and delivers a child for another couple or person. Public antipathy toward surrogacy is still strong.

In a recent nationwide poll of 900 people over 19 years old conducted by cable TV network tvN, 59.2 percent opposed surrogate mothering and childbirth, with a belief that it is unethical to have someone else undergo pregnancy, labor and delivery for other person. Only 23.1 percent supported surrogacy, based on a view that it is the last resort for childless couples.

As evidenced in the arrest, it is regarded as an open secret that clinics have conducted surrogacy procedures. The problem is that a lack of regulation or safeguards may put surrogates at risk.

So, there have been calls for the legalization of surrogate pregnancy ― as long as it is not for profit.

In cyberspace, infertile couples are active in seeking advice and sharing information on alternative means of having biological children. Seizing on their wish, a number of sites gather infertile couples looking for surrogates, women wanting to become surrogates, as well as sperm donors or seekers, despite the ban on sperm or egg trade.

“No one understands the pain of not being able to have a child,” said an anonymous administrator of a large online community for infertile couples, where surrogacy arrangements are touted.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare understands the desperate situation for couples unable to have children. An official said that the authorities have considered tolerating hospitals compensating sperm donors as well as allowing “altruistic” egg or sperm sales.

“Next year, a panel on bioethics will be launched under the wings of the president. Surrogacy will be one of priority issues to be dealt with,” a ministry official said.

The Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs estimates that one in seven married couples in Korea are involuntarily childless.

By Bae Ji-sook  (