Korean Church says ‘no’ to IVF treatment for unmarried women

Group criticizes national rights body proposal to change rules that will allow single women to have treatment

A priest baptizes a child in a Catholic Church in South Korea in 2020. Seoul Archdiocese’s Committee for Life is opposing a proposal to allow in-vitro fertilization for single women to have children. (Photo: Catholic Times of Korea)

Published: July 14, 2022 04:30 AM GMT

Updated: July 14, 2022 05:18 AM GMT

A Church group in South Korea has criticized the national Human Rights Commission for pushing for a revision of reproductive health guidelines to allow single, unmarried women to have children through in-vitro fertilization (IVF).

The Committee for Life of the Archdiocese of Seoul says it deplores a Korean Human Rights Commission proposal to the Korean Society of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, a national association of doctors, to revise ‘Assisted Reproductive Technology Ethics Guidelines’ to permit unmarried women to have IVF treatment.

In-vitro fertilization is a complex series of medical procedures used to help with fertility or prevent genetic problems and assist with the conception of a child, according to Mayo Clinic. During IVF, mature eggs are collected (retrieved) from ovaries and fertilized by sperm in a lab.

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Pro-life activists oppose the procedure stating that it “commercializes childbirth” and “treats the fetus as a commercial property.”

Father Park Jung-woo, secretary of the committee, said the proposed revision goes against Catholic Church teachings.

“Some embryos are implanted successfully, only healthy embryos are left among them, and the rest are aborted,” Catholic Peace Broadcasting Corporation quoted Fr. Park as saying on July 12.

 “We must recognize individual life and diversity and guarantee a woman’s right to self-determination”

“It’s a matter of sorting out some life. The remaining embryos are stored in the freezer and then destroyed or sent to the lab. This is not ethical,” the priest said.

Earlier this month, the National Human Rights Commission had said that it was ‘discriminatory’ to restrict IVF procedures for unmarried women.

 “We must recognize individual life and diversity and guarantee a woman’s right to self-determination,” the commission stated.

This came after several single women lodged complaints with the commission saying that they wished to undergo IVF treatment, but doctors had turned them down citing existing laws that ban IVF for single women.

South Korea’s Bioethics and Safety Act mandates that anyone seeking IVF treatment must obtain consent from their legal spouses, which effectively prohibits single women from getting treatment.

Meanwhile, receiving donor sperm is only allowed in cases where the husband is sterile or has a serious genetic disease.

“South Korea has one of the lowest birth rates in the world”

The debate over IVF for single women was ignited in South Korea in late 2020.  

Sayuri Fujita, a Japanese television personality in South Korea, underwent IVF treatment in Japan and gave birth to a son on Nov. 4, 2020.

This reportedly caused a stir in South Korea with many in society calling for a rethink on existing laws with the nation facing a demographic crisis.

South Korea has one of the lowest birth rates in the world with a rapidly increasing elderly population.

The country of 51.8 million, had the world’s lowest birth rate of 0.84 in 2020, the Korean Statistical agency reported last year.

In 2019 about 30.2 percent of households were single-parent an increase on 29.8 percent the previous year.

In April 2021, South Korea’s Ministry of Gender Equality and Family unveiled its fourth Basic Plan for Healthy Families (2021-25), which for the first time sought to provide financial and institutional support to families including out-of-wedlock unions and children.

Giving birth outside of marriage is considered taboo in the community that follows Confucian traditions and patriarchal family structures.

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