China: The Maternal and Infant Health Care Law


The Law of the People's Republic of China on the Maternal and Infant Health Care (MIHCL), enacted in 1995, sparked widespread concerns, criticisms and in some cases fierce outcries in the Western scientific community. This article describes the background in drafting the law, chronicles reactions to its release and its subsequent development, attempts to provide a balanced presentation on perspectives of the West and of Chinese side, draws up a list of questions surrounding this controversy and its subsequent development, and, finally, argues that the entire process holds several lessons to future legislature in China when drafting health‐related laws.

Key Concepts:

  • The Law of the People's Republic of China on the Maternal and Infant Health Care (MIHCL) was enacted in 1995.

  • The law was drafted apparently in response to enormous population pressure, the heavy burden of people with disability, and questionable local practices that restrict reproductive freedom on people with mental and putative hereditary diseases.

  • The law sparked widespread concerns, criticisms, and in some cases fierce outcries in the Western scientific community, yet experts in China defended the law.

  • The most contentious articles in the law include ones that propel physicians to provide medical advice on long‐term contraception or sterilisation to couples who have been diagnosed with unspecified genetic disease of a serious nature after a mandatory pre‐marital medical examination (PMME).

  • In 2001, the Implementation Methods of MIHCL went effective, in which articles in the MIHCL that aroused controversies were written in a manner that is more ‘politically correct’ by Western standards.

  • In 2003, the Ministry of Civil Affairs issued The Marriage Registration Code, which effectively abolished the mandatory requirement for PMME as a prerequisite for marriage registration.

  • This dramatic change, viewed by many as inconsistent with the MIHCL, received warm welcome from the public, many of them unhappy with the mandatory requirement for PMME, but it also raised concern that the abolishment may have resulted in increased incidence of birth defects.

  • In 2005, a special Task Force reached conclusions that there is no credible evidence that suggests that the rising incidence of birth defects in some areas can be attributable to the abolishment of compulsive PMME and that the PMME has limited value in preventing birth defects.

  • The enactment of MIHCL and the subsequent, somewhat dramatic reverse in course beg for many questions regarding the scientific basis, if any, for the legislature.

  • The controversy surrounding the MIHCL and its subsequent development hold several lessons for people who attempt to solve complex health‐related problems through judiciary means.

Keywords: China; eugenics; infant; law; maternal


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Guo, Sun‐Wei(Apr 2012) China: The Maternal and Infant Health Care Law. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0005201.pub2]