Database to track sperm and offspring

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 February, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 February, 2008, 12:00am

Records kept to avoid incest, unethical acts

A central database on reproductive technology including information about sperm donors and babies born through artificial insemination is being set up to avoid incest and unethical practices.

The Legislative Council passed the Human Reproductive Technology Ordinance in November 2000, and the Council on Human Reproductive Technology was later set up as a regulatory and licensing body. The ordinance and its subsidiary regulations were enacted in August, 20 years after the topic was first studied by the government.

Council chairman Leong Che-hung said the council's database would include information from licensed centres and particulars of people involved in the procedures, including gamete donors, parents and babies.

Dr Leong said the purpose of the ordinance is to make sure all reproductive technology procedures are done ethically. It covers areas such as operators' facilities and staffing, the use of gametes and embryos, research, surrogacy and gender selection. Each sperm donor is allowed to have up to three babies born from the same sample, and all centres must provide counselling for clients.

'Although the chances are extremely low, the cap is to avoid people born from the same sperm donation getting married,' he said. 'The result creates incest in our society. In the United States and United Kingdom ... that number is fixed at 10, but we think Hong Kong is such a small place, we cannot take that risk.'

He said the council would tell someone only if his or her parent had undergone a procedure involving reproductive technology.

'The council will not tell someone if he or she is a product of artificial insemination. There's no way we can ascertain that.'

A sperm donor can choose whether he wishes to be contacted by his offspring.

'Confidentiality is very important; otherwise, it will create problems like someone suddenly knocking on a sperm donor's door and saying: 'I'm your child, and I want your money', or 'I want a kidney for transplant'. But in the case of a bone marrow transplant, perhaps a donor may want to help.'

According to the ordinance, only married couples may have artificial insemination; gender selection may be done only for medical reasons such as when a couple suffers from a genetic disease; and surrogacy may not involve any commercial dealings. Operators who commit an offence face a maximum six months' jail for the first conviction and two years for a subsequent conviction.

Dr Leong said a couple is banned from forcing a surrogate mother to give up the baby for adoption because under the law, only the natural mother has the legal status.

A centre needs a treatment licence to provide service for a couple and a surrogate mother.

By the January 31 deadline, the council received 61 licence applications in four categories: 44 for artificial insemination by husbands, 13 for treatment, three for research and one for storage.