Demand up for US surrogacy service

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 January, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 January, 2011, 12:00am

A growing number of Hong Kong people are turning to surrogacy as a last resort to fulfil their dreams of parenthood.

The US-based Surrogacy Centre Hong Kong - which specialises in matching Hongkongers with surrogates in the US who are willing to be reimbursed for their expenses and not paid for their services - says it gets about five inquiries a week from people in the city. Five years ago, it was only getting half that number.

Last year the centre helped 80 couples and individuals through surrogacy, of whom about 30 per cent were from Hong Kong and the mainland. In contrast, the agency had a total of just 10 cases when it was set up six years ago.

Surrogacy is tightly controlled in the city by the Council on Human Reproductive Technology, and commercial surrogacy is illegal.

'We believe surrogacy is becoming more popular because people are becoming more aware of it,' said Li Lan, the centre's practice manager. 'They are talking about it more and becoming more open about their experiences. The issue was hardly written or spoken about six to 10 years ago so not many people knew it was an option.'

But Professor Alfred Chan Cheung-ming, of Lingnan University, who chairs the Human Reproductive Technology Council's ethics committee, said: 'We don't feel the public is ready for this kind of conception. We are concerned it could arouse a lot of public anxiety if it was commercially legalised,'

Finding a volunteer to act as surrogate is the only option for women in Hong Kong. They must prove themselves incapable of carrying their own child following the recommendations of doctors and seek final approval from the council. No case, however, had ever met the requirements set by the council, Chan said.

With infertility on the rise, roughly one in six couples find themselves unable to conceive due to a range of social and environmental factors, according to Dr Patrick Chan, an obstetrics and gynaecology specialist at Matilda International Hospital on The Peak. So more are becoming interested in surrogacy as an alternative to childlessness.

High-profile cases, including the births of surrogate children to Elton John, Nicole Kidman and, locally, Peter Lee Ka-kit - unmarried son of Henderson Land Development's Lee Shau-kee, who is being investigated by police over the birth of triplets via surrogacy in the US last year - have heightened the discussion.

Critics of commercial surrogacy say the renting of a womb takes advantage of poor women, widens the gap between rich and poor, blurs family boundaries, and can have a profound impact on all involved.

Professor Edwin Hui, founding director of the University of Hong Kong's medical ethics unit, said: 'A person could end up with three mothers: the biological, the gestational and the social, and two fathers: the biological and social. It becomes a zoo. Just because something can be done does not necessarily mean it should be done.'

Priscilla Lui Tsang Sun-kai, director of Against Child Abuse, a concern group on children's welfare, says that in order for surrogacy to work, it must garner community support.

'People are so swept up in their desire to have a child they don't always think from the perspective of a child or the long-term impact. The best interest of a child does not depend solely on being in the care of a loving home because we don't only live under the roof of family.'

However, as new reproductive technologies make headway, Professor Chan believes there is a case for tightly controlled surrogacy to become more available, though ethical issues would have to be resolved first.