Saturday, July 5, 2008

China's New 5-Year Plan for Human Development

Eugenics involves two philosophical tendencies: 1) the idea that human hereditary stock can and should be improved, and 2) the belief that such changes should be enforced by the state. One may hold the first view without holding the second. Transhumanists tend to subscribe to the first point but not the second, leading to the charge that they are liberal eugenicists. China marries the 2 concepts yet finds it difficult to consistently apply a radical eugenics program.

We who live in the West, where birth rates are declining and prenatal care is generally good, find it difficult to imagine the population and health challenges that China faces. But a study of compulsory premarital checkups reveals that state involvement has generally benefited Chinese citizens.

A 1994 Law of the People's Republic of China Concerning the Mother and Infant Care made pre-marital checkups mandatory. This didn’t mean that all couples rushed to the nearest clinic. In fact, progress was slow. Gu Xiulian, chairperson of the All-China Women's Federation said a lack of public education combined with poor services had led to new weds "not understanding, even fearing, medical checkups".

In time, the law led to increased participation. The proportion of new couples receiving premarital medical checkups increased steadily until it reached a national rate of 68 per cent in 2002. In developed eastern areas and urban centers the figure reached nearly 95 per cent.

In October 1, 2003, the revised Regulations Governing Marriage Registration abolished compulsory pre-marital checkups. Initially this was received as an indication of progress and respect for privacy, but in the following year the rate of premarital checkups dropped to below 10 per cent.

In North China's Shanxi Province, which has the highest rate of infant infections, the checkup rate was only 2.05 per cent in 2004. In Shanghai, only 3.26 per cent of newlyweds took the checkups in 2004.

In 2003, 648 people were found with syphilis through premarital health checkups in Shanghai. In 2004, the disease was detected in only 13 people due to a radically reduced number of premarital checkups.

"Some of the carriers had no idea of their situation since the disease can only be detected through special checks. This poses great danger to their partners or their offspring, said Wu Yu, a physician of the Shanghai Reproductive Health Technical Instruction and Training Centre.

In 2001, among the 8.79 million couples receiving checkups around the country, about 140,000 were found to be suffering from diseases relevant to marriage and child-bearing. Among these, around 20,000 couples were found to be infected by an STD, including 84 HIV carriers and AIDS cases.

Epidemiologists are concerned that the number of infant birth defects due to hereditary or infectious diseases will increase if effective measures are not taken. Given the worsening situation and increasing number of infant birth defects, China is taking action to improve awareness of the importance of premarital checkups.

China hopes to apply a more thorough strategy for population development, family health and family planning. It has prepared a Plan and Program for Population Development. The “11th Five-Year Plan” plan, recently approved for implementation, states 5 objectives:

(1) Stabilize the current fertility policy, and implement socioeconomic development policies in an integrated way, so as to maintain the total fertility rate at around 1.8 and ensure realization of the quantitative population objective

(2) Upgrade general health of newborn population, comprehensively address unbalanced sex ratio at birth and proactively respond to population ageing

(3) Prioritize development of education and fully develop human resources

(4) Take coordinated development of urban and rural areas and of different geographic regions into overall consideration and guide orderly movement and rational distribution of population

(5) Develop the undertakings for public health, women and children, social welfare, and promote social harmony and equity.

Reporting on the new plan, a Chinese official recently explained: “While fully acknowledging the great accomplishments of population and family planning program, the Decision profoundly analyzes the current China’s population situation and its severe challenges and incisively describes the important status and role of population and family planning program in the economic and social development. After stating the need to stabilize the low fertility level with all efforts, the Decision goes on to describe a series of major tasks, policy systems and implementation measures, namely, vigorously upgrade general health of newborn population, comprehensively address abnormal sex ratio at birth, constantly improve the management and service delivery system for migrant population, proactively respond to population ageing, etc.”

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