Surrogacy will continue to be banned in China, and violations will be punished, China's top health authority announced on Wednesday.
The announcement follows recent discussions on whether to allow surrogacy in China to facilitate the second-child policy.
"Surrogacy is a complex matter involving legal, ethical and social issues, and Chinese health regulations ban medical institutions and staff from performing surrogacy in any form," National Health and Family Planning Commission spokesman Mao Qun'an said at a news conference in Beijing.
"We will continue to severely punish surrogacy violations and ensure that people have access to safe, regulated and effective assisted reproductive technology services."
Most other countries and regions also ban surrogacy in all forms and punish institutes and personnel engaged in the practice, Mao said.
However, experts cited in a recent People's Daily report recommended that authorities consider allowing the limited use of voluntary surrogacy in cases of couples who have been unable to have children.
Surrogacy has been a topic of public discussion since China adopted the second-child policy at the start of 2016, in view of the dwindling workforce and a rapidly aging population. All couples are now allowed-and encouraged-to have two children.
The policy change has made another 90 million women eligible to have a second child. But half of them are over 40 years old, which means they face higher pregnancy risks, according to the National Health and Family Planning Commission.
Wang Aiming, head of the gynecology department at Navy General Hospital in Beijing, said that although surrogacy could bring ethical problems and health risks, it should not be entirely prohibited.
"Although it is banned in China, there is still a great need for surrogacy for people such as those who are too old or those who suffer from severe diseases, such as cervical cancer," she said. "Some of them have sought surrogacy overseas and spent a lot of money, and still have not succeeded in having babies."
Wang said, however, that lifting the ban hastily would result in many problems, such as some medical institutes or staff failing to strictly follow regulations, leading to profiteering.
"I think even if surrogacy were allowed in the future, it should be done only in a few certified institutions to control the risks," Wang said.
Xie Guoao, CEO of Uyixing, an invitro fertilization service provider in Beijing, said that since demand for surrogacy is increasing in China, lifting the ban could be risky because legislation and regulations guiding it are lacking.
Last year, the company helped arrange nearly 100 Chinese customers to have babies through surrogates in the US and Russia, he said.
A gay man in Beijing, who declined to be named, said the government should ease the ban on surrogacy.
"There is already a black market in China and the rich even go abroad to arrange surrogacy," he said.
Destinations such as Thailand, the Philippines and the US have become popular among gay couples seeking surrogacy services.
Some gay men who cannot afford to get a child through surrogacy might marry a woman just to have a baby, he said. "That's unfair and tragic for such women."
The All-China Women's Federation did not comment when reached by China Daily on Wednesday.