China Attempts To Redesign a People With Draconian Law

EUGENICS, taken to horrid proportions during its use in Nazi Germany, has been given a new life in Communist-run China.

A new law due to start in June requires Chinese couples with mental illnesses and other congenital disabilities to be sterilized or accept long-term contraception. And pregnant women with a hereditary disease or abnormality will be pressured to abort.

The so-called Maternal and Infantile Health Care Law is China's latest attempt to control its growing population, now at more than 1.2 billion. The law follows from the government's 15-year-old restrictive one-child-only policy.

The government insists such stringent measures are needed to spread the country's new prosperity and prevent population growth from outstripping the economy. It notes that China has 22 percent of the world's population and only 7 percent of its arable land and cannot be expected to control its population without strict official targets. ``Statistics show that the country now has more than 10 million disabled persons, who could have been prevented if their parents had such a law to follow,'' the official New China News Agency reported.

Approved last October by China's top legislative body, the new law was passed almost one year after a similar proposed bill stirred a wave of protests internationally and also among some Chinese doctors and educators working with the disabled. That original draft barred reproduction by Chinese with mental and venereal diseases and widespread afflictions caused by poverty and poor health standards.

Outraged critics said that using abortions, sterilization, and marriage bans to ``avoid new births of inferior quality and heighten the standards of the whole population,'' as the original bill proposed, would infringe on human rights.

Stunned by the international outcry, the government shelved the proposed legislation, renamed it, and wrote a new draft that excluded such high-charged terms as ``eugenics'' and ``inferior'' births. The term ``eugenics'' dates to the brutal birth-selection policy practiced by Hitler in Nazi Germany.

``This new law is giving China a very bad name,'' says a gynecologist who has presided over healthy births to couples with congenital health problems, whom the new law would prohibit from having children.

The new law could be tough on ``inferior'' people such as Mo Yi, who claims she has ``certain genetic diseases.''

``Getting into college or getting a job is very difficult for someone like me,'' says the chemistry student who wants to be a teacher. ``I don't know what this new law will mean for my future.''

The government has not yet spelled out how the new law will be implemented, although forced abortions and other kinds of coercion have been a cornerstone of Chinese family planning.

In an attempt to soften criticism from the West, the government highlighted another aspect of the legislation, which bans sex screening before birth through ultrasound, except when needed for medical reasons.

Despite official prohibitions, using ultrasound tests for gender selection continues to be easily arranged in many towns and cities. Given the cultural preference for boys to carry on the clan and take care of elderly parents, female fetuses are often aborted and baby girls killed, abandoned, or sent to orphanages. Many Chinese orphanages are filled with girls or disabled children.

``China cannot afford to educate, train, and provide for all these children,'' says a Beijing professor who follows the controversy. ``This is a burden for China.''

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