A woman in her 50s gave birth last year to a baby she had carried for her daughter, who is unable to bear children, the head of a maternity clinic in Nagano Prefecture announced Sunday. The revelation could stir further debate about births by surrogate mothers, which are opposed by both the health ministry and the nation’s obstetrician association.
Yahiro Netsu, director of the Suwa Maternity Clinic in Shimosuwa, Nagano Prefecture, made the announcement at a news conference in Tokyo.
He said the woman gave birth in spring 2005 using an egg from her daughter, whose uterus was removed due to cancer, and sperm from the daughter’s husband, effectively giving birth to her grandchild. The husband and wife are both in their 30s.
It is the first time a woman in Japan has acted as a surrogate mother for her daughter, Netsu said.
The Suwa Maternity Clinic performed in vitro fertilization and implanted a fertilized egg in the woman’s womb in 2004.
Netsu said the woman was given hormone injections before the implantation of the fertilized egg as she had reached menopause and had uterine atrophy.
The baby was registered as a child of the surrogate mother and was later adopted by the daughter and her husband, Netsu said.
The surrogate mother and the child, whose gender has not been released, are in good health, he said.
The woman visited the clinic about four years ago and offered to be a surrogate mother for her daughter, Netsu said, adding his clinic conducted the surrogate birth after confirming that the woman had no health problems and obtaining approval from the in-house ethics committee.
About a grandmother acting as a surrogate mother, Netsu said, “This is the most trouble-free way, I think, as we can avoid such trouble as a surrogate mother refusing to give up the child she delivered.”
Netsu, who in the past has defied guidelines imposed by the Japan Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology and helped other couples have children through surrogate mothers, said he wants a public debate on the issue.
“I know I will face criticism (for performing the surrogate birth), but I want everyone to discuss it” as an issue that could affect them personally, he said.
During the news conference, Netsu said he handled two other surrogate births recently, in which sisters became surrogate mothers.
The three cases follow two other surrogate births announced by Netsu in the past, including the nation’s first, revealed in May 2001. It involved a woman who gave birth to a child using the egg of her elder sister, who had undergone a uterus operation.
After the 2001 announcement, a council of the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry compiled a report in April 2003 suggesting a legal ban on surrogate births and punitive measures against violators, out of concern that such births may impose physical and mental strain on surrogate mothers and cause complications in family relationships. No legislative measures have been introduced, however, due to opposition among lawmakers in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
The Japan Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology released guidelines in April 2003 banning surrogate births.