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Japan to consider surrogacy law reform

23 October 2006
Appeared in BioNews 381

New legislation supporting assisted conception, including surrogacy, for infertile couples will be considered by the Japanese government. Although not a crime, surrogacy is currently prohibited by the Society of Obstetrics and Gynaecology in Japan after concerns over safety, custody battles and distress caused during the process were raised. The debate reflects growing Japanese public sympathy for infertile couples, and it follows reports last week that a doctor enabled a grandmother to carry the child of her daughter who was unable to give birth herself after cancer treatment.

Japan's first surrogate birth was announced in 2001 and led to the Health Ministry calling for an immediate ban. Although this was blocked, the Society of Obstetrics and Gynaecology successfully managed to prohibit surrogate births in 2003, citing the mental and physical burden to the surrogate mother and the fear that surrogacy could confuse familial relationships.

Surrogacy caused renewed public debate after Japanese actress, Aki Mukai, campaigned to have her two children, born to a surrogate mother in the US, recognised as part of her family registry by the local government. Current law in Japan states that the mother of a child is the one who gives birth to the baby. The case was won by Mukai on appeal in the Tokyo High Court in September but the ward office filed an appeal against the decision to the Supreme Court last week.

There are signs that the attitude of the Health Ministry is changing. 'Rather than looking in the council's direction as law, I think we will explore other directions', said Health Minister Hakuo Yanagisawa. However, the government has made clear that they have not yet adopted a position on the issue. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters that the issue of surrogacy is 'very difficult' and Sanae Takaichi, state minister for gender, equality and population has said that 'the discussion is highly welcome, but it is extremely difficult to judge whether surrogate birth can be encouraged.' Although it appears likely that the public will support changes to the existing law, it remains to be seen whether the government will endorse a sympathetic view of surrogacy.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Government to mull measures to support surrogate birth
Yahoo Daily News |  16 October 2006
Japanese Government to Consider Supporting Assisted Reproductive Technologies, Surrogate Births, Officials say
Kaiser Network |  19 October 2006
Japan leans towards backing surrogate births
Yahoo Daily News |  17 October 2006
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