Originally created 06/12/04

Japan refuses mother's request for recognition of children delivered by surrogate



TOKYO -- The Japanese government has rejected a popular television actress' request that her twin sons - delivered by a surrogate mother in the United States - be recognized as her own, the justice minister said Friday.

Aki Mukai and her husband, former professional wrestler Nobuhiko Takada, became parents in late November when an American woman in her 30s gave birth to the boys.

Mukai, 39, and Takada, 42, applied to their municipality shortly afterward asking that the babies be included in their family register. The central government instructed the municipality in May to refuse the application, Justice Minister Daizo Ozawa said.

The ministry declined to explain why, citing Mukai's privacy.

Japanese law doesn't prohibit surrogate births, which involve removing an egg for fertilization and implanting it into another woman, who carries the baby until birth. But the Japan Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology sets ethical standards restricting in-vitro insemination to married couples and opposing any surrogate births, and lawmakers want to impose a ban on surrogate births and penalize those who violate it.

As a result, few Japanese doctors will perform a surrogate birth, and many childless couples have turned to fertility clinics in the United States.

Lawmakers in Japan's conservative ruling Liberal Democratic Party have long opposed most fertility treatments because they fear legal custody battles and other possible repercussions for the traditional family unit.

In 2000, Mukai was pregnant with her first child when doctors told her she had cervical cancer. She ended the pregnancy to undergo treatment, and later turned to a surrogate to carry the couple's children.

If not listed on the family register - an official document used to prove identity when applying for schools, jobs and passports in Japan - the twins would have trouble following through with the most basic activities of life.

Pro-surrogacy doctors say a ban on surrogate births would limit the options for many childless couples, leaving them no choice but to seek fertility treatments abroad. A ban also would undermine the government's hopes of reversing the nation's record-low birth rate, at 1.29 births per woman last year, they say.

In another case, the government ruled in October that a couple whose twins were born to an American surrogate couldn't be the biological parents.

Officials later said they would reconsider if the couple registered the boys as the offspring of the Japanese man and the American surrogate mother, but the couple rejected that offer. Japan regards the twins as American citizens.

Mukai's office said neither the family nor their spokesman was available for comment.

Kyodo News reported that Mukai issued a statement expressing frustration that Nozawa told the media about the decision.

"Should the justice minister be allowed to release information to the press about a matter so personal as the relationship between parent and child?" Mukai said, according to Kyodo. "I don't believe the announcement is at all in the interest of child welfare."