Two employees of an agency that arranged for surrogate pregnancies in Guangdong province were sentenced to prison after a woman was injured by an illegal egg-retrieval procedure.
The case marked the first time in the province that employees of such an agency have been held criminally liable. Surrogacy is banned in China.
Health authorities have been fighting the practice to ensure people have access to safe, regulated and effective assisted reproductive technologies, according to the National Health and Family Planning Commission.
The employees, who were identified only by their surnames - Deng and Lai - worked at Beier Qiyuan Technology Co. They were sentenced to one year and 10 months respectively by a court in Guangzhou and ordered to pay fines of 5,000 yuan (0) and 3,000 yuan for illegally practicing medicine.
The sentences were handed down in April, but the provincial Health and Family Planning Commission only provided details of the case on Monday.
Deng was accused of arranging for a woman surnamed Liang, 18, to have her eggs retrieved at a clinic on Oct 6. Liang became acquainted with Deng and Lai in June last year through a friend and agreed to sell her eggs for 15,000 yuan, according to the commission.
For more than 10 days before the surgery, Deng and Lai accompanied Liang for physical checkups and to receive drugs that facilitate ovulation, the commission said.
Liang felt serious discomfort and fell into a state of shock on Oct 9. She was sent to Nanfang Hospital, a large public hospital in Guangzhou, for treatment. Judicial authorities certified that she had a damaged ovary and needed surgery.
Deng and Lai were detained on Oct 27 after a police investigation.
Surrogacy is usually practiced in secret, and those involved, including agents, clinics and the surrogate mothers, are located in different places in a highly organized network, according to the commission, which said that the authorities should improve their cooperation in fighting the practice.
With the adoption of the universal second-child policy, the number of women who find it difficult to conceive naturally and need assisted reproductive technologies is increasing, according to hospitals and doctors.
Wang Aiming, a professor of assisted reproductive medicine at Navy General Hospital in Beijing, said surrogacy can bring serious health risks, and even death, to surrogate mothers, and legalizing the practice may result in unethical behavior, such as surrogacy for money.
"Surrogacy is in great demand in China. For example, women made infertile from repeated abortions, and women who suffer serious heart disease, may need surrogacy," she said.
"Because it is illegal here, many couples go abroad," she said. "Even then, many don't succeed, even after spending a lot of money."
Wang suggested allowing surrogacy in a few certified medical institutes in China to meet demand while preventing risks like dangerous medical practices.