A sperm bank based in Tokyo is causing controversy by offering to match surrogate mothers and assisted conception services in South Korea to Japanese couples. The service has been offered from the beginning of the year and the company - called Excellence - reports that it already has two customers on its books seeking South Korean surrogates: one is a single woman in her thirties and the other is a lesbian couple.
In 2003, the Japan Society of Obstetrics and Gynaecology forbade its members from arranging surrogacy. In response, Japan's Health, Labour and Welfare Ministry compiled a report on the ban and proposed a national law to prohibit surrogacy and surrogacy brokering services, although it supported the use of donor eggs or sperm in IVF. Surrogacy is unregulated in South Korea but ethical guidelines issued by the Korea Medical Association discourage its use if the surrogate mother is attempting to give birth in exchange for money.
The system works by Excellence introducing its customers to the South Korean firm, and the firm finding a suitable clinic for the medical procedures to take place, as well as a surrogate, if requested. Excellence has been in operation since 1996 and provides sperm to infertile couples and single women. Its new service was introduced after a female client of the company arranged to have a surrogate child herself, using a South Korean woman as the surrogate and a South Korean broker. Excellence approached the broker with a view to working together on future arrangements.
Yuji Sasaki, who heads the company, said that he was unaware of any other Japanese company that provided a similar service. He explained that the average total cost for a surrogate birth in South Korea could amount to around 10 million Yen, which he estimates to be less than half the cost of arranging a surrogacy via the US, as has tended to happen in the past. He also said that clients might prefer to use South Korean women as surrogates because of the closer geographical location and also because, if the surrogate donated her egg to a Japanese couple, the baby 'would still look Asian'.
The news comes in the same week as the finding that more than eight out of ten South Koreans oppose the idea of using surrogate mothers, according to a report conducted by a Hallym University research team and submitted to the Ministry of Health and Welfare.
In a survey of 1000 adults, the researchers found that 83.4 per cent were opposed to the use of surrogacy for financial gain and 83.3 per cent were against all forms of surrogacy. More than 89 per cent of women respondents said they would not ever consider being a surrogate, even if asked by a family member. Fifty-seven per cent said that when surrogacy is used, the commissioning mother should be recognised as the legal mother, while 41.7 per cent said this should be the birth mother.