A Los Angeles reproductive clinic is looking to tap a demographic of affluent Chinese women by promoting its egg-freezing treatment on Alibaba's group-buying website Juhuasuan.
Southern California Reproductive Center (SCRC) is currently in talks with Juhuasuan about bringing Chinese women to the United States for treatment, following the Chinese website's recent successful sperm-donation program that connected more than 22,000 donors with sperm banks through online booking three days last month.
The attempt by Alibaba shows that there's great potential to develop O2O (online-to-offline) commerce in medical and health care areas, said Su Yu, marketing specialist with Juhuasuan.
"We are now doing research and hope for cooperation [with SCRC] when everything is ready," he told China Daily.
The Hangzhou-based website has taken a cautious approach amid a national debate over women's reproductive rights after Chinese actress Xu Jinglei disclosed she had nine of her eggs frozen in the US two years ago at the age of 39.
Under Chinese law, only married women with infertility problems or cancer are allowed to have their eggs frozen because of concerns about egg trafficking.
Besides the legal considerations, medical experts are concerned about the potential risks to women's health.
The safety and effectiveness of the procedure have not been clear in China, because it is still in the clinical research stage, according to the maternal and child health services department of China's National Health and Family Planning Commission.
The practice has been performed in China for less than 10 years and only on a small scale, Li Rong, a doctor with the reproductive center of Peking University Third Hospital, told the Beijing Morning Post. The center conducts no more than 100 egg-freezing treatments every year.
Supporters, however, regard the restrictions as an infringement on women's reproductive rights.
Popular Chinese blogger Han Han said in his post, "Why don't women have the right to use their own eggs? Why can't women use their reproductive rights?"
Other Internet users said the near ban means unmarried women are essentially blocked from reproducing, or that more women will be driven to marry and have children quickly.
"Egg freezing gives women more freedom and independence, as reproduction is one of the most important factors restricting women's development," said an unmarried 35-year-old professional woman working with the Beijing branch of a US advertising company who asked not to be named. She said she had "great interest" in the egg-freezing treatment.
Many single Chinese women wishing to have their eggs frozen have turned to overseas clinics.
"Due to career considerations, many professional women choose to delay their motherhood, so chances are that they miss their prime time of producing high-quality eggs," said Charlie Gu, director of China Luxury Advisors, a China consumer strategy consultant. SCRC is one of the firm's clients.
Prospective customers include white-collar women in their 30s who work in big cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, Gu said.
"China is a very impressive country with a growing economy and a need for services like fertility," said Mark Surrey, a reproductive surgeon and co-founder and medical director of SCRC, who recently returned from China with a medical delegation.
He said the opportunities range from pre-implantic genetic testing of embryos to helping people achieve family balance.
"There is also a need there for people who want to take advantage of technology that is not available there, especially gestational surrogacy as well ovum donation (egg donation)," he said.
US doctors have been involved with egg freezing for more than 20 years. In 2013, almost 5,000 women froze their eggs, according to data from the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology. Apple and Facebook announced last year that they would cover egg freezing in their employee health plans.