NANJING (CHINA DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - In the first case of its kind in China, a man was ordered by a court to compensate his wife for mental anguish after he secretly stopped paying storage fees for her frozen embryos during their divorce proceedings in Nanjing, Jiangsu province.
Xuanwu District People's Court ruled that the man should pay 30,000 yuan (S$6,236) to his wife for infringing on her rights to health and compromising her procreative progress.
The man, known as Fang Mu, met his wife, Pei Pei, in 2004. He went to study in the United States and returned to China to marry her in 2010. After going to the US to live for four years, the infertile couple decided to try in-vitro fertilisation at a US hospital.
The hospital took 13 eggs from Pei and managed to fertilise six. It implanted one fertilised egg and stored the remaining five as requested by the couple. However, Pei had a miscarriage before she returned to China in 2015 as her relationship with Fang deteriorated.
In July 2016, Fang filed for divorce in China but was rejected because the judge believed the two still had feelings for each other. However, Pei did not know that the five embryos stored in the US had been destroyed until Fang filed for divorce again in June 2017.
The embryos were destroyed because Fang had ceased paying the storage fees in March 2016.
Fang argued that, like women, men have the right to choose not to have children, the court said. He also said he wanted no contact with Pei after the divorce, and it was his legal right not to store the embryos.
Judge Chen Wenjun said that women bear more pain and health risks than men in undergoing in-vitro fertilisation procedures.
"Risks and pain exist before and during the act of harvesting eggs from women's bodies," he said. "The decision to take health risks and endure physical pain cannot be rewarded for wives if their husbands abandon the embryos."
"He infringed the wife's right to know the condition of the embryos, and didn't get her consent to stop paying the hospital," Judge Chen said.
He said that husbands should respect their wives' sacrifice during in-vitro fertilisation procedures and should not abandon the embryos without the woman's consent.
"The husbands should show understanding and respect while maintaining the embryos' vitality before they get divorced," he said.
Lan Tianbin, a lawyer at Jiangsu Dongheng Law Firm, said the verdict was fair.
"The law tends to protect women's rights when the couple's reproductive rights conflict," he said. "Women bear more physical risks and psychological pressure during reproduction."
Judge Chen added that China's Marriage Law makes it clear husbands cannot be compensated if their wives terminate pregnancies without their consent.