In vitro fertilization (IVF) has been around since the late 1970s. IVF is a medical procedure that refers to the fertilization of a woman’s egg with sperm from outside the body. For somebody who wants to have children but cannot in a natural way due to health issues that may harm the mother or child, this surgery can be a lifeline.
In Korea, the technique has mostly been limited to use by married couples wanting children, but cannot do so in conventional ways. However, the recent decision and statement from Japanese television personality, Sayuri Fujita, who has publicly decided to bear children without a spouse has sparked a conversation about motherhood by choice.
According to the Ministry of Health and Welfare, the law does not prohibit women becoming mothers by choice or women who choose not to marry, but receive IVF. On the other hand, the Korean Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology has articulated in its regulations that no doctor gives IVF surgery to non-married women. Although in Nov. 24 the organization had re-addressed the regulations and said that they will expand the sphere, as they had only allowed the application of the surgery to informally- married couples, single women are still excluded.
Kim Young-joo, a lawyer at law firm Jihyang Law, pointed out that the law makers seem to have not anticipated that women would choose to become mothers by choice. Nonetheless, there is a legal pretense that a woman should receive the consent of her husband for IVF.
Although the medical community has gone through a review of their regulations within itself, no measures to collect public debate have been made yet. Kim thinks the tedious nature of the current situation is due to the fact that all parties are engrossed in clarifying who is responsible for the bottleneck of regulations. She stated that organizations should put aside the clarification and initiate an active discussion with those on the frontline of this matter.
In the perspective of a lawyer, Kim said the definition of a family is quickly disintegrating. She mentioned that the law is not sufficiently catching up with the rapid change in our society where methods by which individual’s pursuit of happiness diversify.
Kim further noted that constant enlightening of lawyers and lawmakers is required on diverse matters including IVF of unwed women to strive forward.
“With such rapid changes, it has become difficult to offer legal counsel only with existing law and context. Engaging ourselves with those who most know about the subject matter is key importance,” Kim said.
With the conversation ongoing, a professor in Women’s Studies, Kim Sun-hye, said the recent announcement by Sayuri Fujita has revived debate about the social definition of a family.
“Ideas about a single woman becoming a mother, or a lesbian couple wishing to raise a child via sperm donation questions how far we can challenge the concept of a normal family or heterosexual-centered mindsets,” Kim said.
Kim noted that already, numerous relationships outside the conventional form of family have been replacing its duty. For example, it is not surprising to find a roommate function as a family rather than one’s grandparents living hours away. Kim added what is left is to find ways to legislatively support the diverse implementations of family.
Additionally, compared to Korea’s public reaction 12 years ago on IVF of unmarried women which has been surfaced by radio presenter Her Soo-kyung who made the same choice as Sayuri Fujita, today’s discussion is a stark contrast. According to Kim, young women in particular showed positive reactions. She said it is likely due to the fact that conventional methods of child delivery have approached women as relevant with external pressure from families or society with little individual choice in the matter.
“I believe that once our society becomes supportive of a woman’s full liberty of choice concerning childbirth, the term ‘mom by choice’ will not be important anymore,” Kim said. “And no longer will child delivery equate a woman having to fit herself inside the marriage system.”