by Xinhua writers Qiang Lijing, Wang Jian and Ren Liying
BEIJING, July 31 (Xinhua) -- Sun Jiaqian is 33 and still single, but the office worker from Shanghai still wants a child, even if her monotonous life is dominated by a heavy workload and Mr. Right is a vague and distant dream.
Recent news that the actress Xu Jinglei had her eggs frozen in the United States has given Sun new heart.
"I was excited when I learned about egg freezing. I cannot marry a man I don't love, so this could give me more time to find the perfect man to be my baby's father," she said. Unfortunately for Sun, unmarried women in China are not allowed access to the practice.
In a rapidly graying country where women are getting married and giving birth later in life, Xu's celebrity has brought egg freezing to the attention of many.
Li Rong of the reproduction center at Peking University Third Hospital, said an increasing number of women have come to here seeking information on assisted reproductive technology. "Most are aged above 35 and are worried about declining egg quality and the inevitable infertility that will come as they grow older. They hope to freeze their young eggs and give birth to healthy children later," Li said.
Though the technique was introduced to China some ten years ago, it has not been widely promoted, Li told Xinhua. Her center has carried out less than 100 procedures so far.
Unmarried women are not allowed access to any assisted reproduction technique in China, and married women can only have their eggs frozen in two situations -- when their husbands cannot provide sperm on the day when the eggs are harvested, or prior to the loss of ovarian function due to cancer treatment or radiation therapy. Egg harvesting can be problematic for women with existing health conditions.
A low success rate is another reason why the technique is not widely used, according to Lu Qun, director of assisted reproduction center at Sichuan Provincial People's Hospital. Embryo freezing has a success rate over 60 percent, but less than 50 percent of frozen eggs are viable.
Zheng Lixin, deputy director of Guangdong research institute for family planning, echoed Lu's views: the ovum is very vulnerable during freezing and thawing, so egg freezing is not the best choice for all infertile couples.
China does not offer egg freezing to unmarried women because of concerns about illegal human egg trade. Plenty of infertile couples are in dire need of healthy ova, but finding a proper donor has limited their choices, so the ova shortage has resulted in a thriving black market.
The national health and family planning commission suggests that women should get pregnant in their prime child-bearing years, between 24 and 29. Pregnancy at over 35 can be dangerous to both mother and fetus.
Health authorities must come up with more detailed stipulations on assisted reproduction techniques. Current regulations can not deal with many issues and should be renewed. "For example, it has not been expressly stipulated how much egg freezing should cost, so fees vary from hospital to hospital," Zheng Lixin said.
Back in Shanghai, Sun remains hopeful and determined. "I will probably go abroad to have my eggs frozen if I am still single two years from now, but I'd be happier if the service was allowed here," she told Xinhua.