INFERTILITY treatment for childless couples is to be regulated by a licensing system drawn up by medical, legal and ethical specialists. Family doctors, clinics, universities, the Family Planning Association and other centres may all need licences to prescribe fertility drugs, perform artificial insemination or manipulate sperm and eggs to produce male or female babies. Specialist centres may also have to submit reports on their work and allow unprecedented scrutiny of their successes and failures. A committee - the Provisional Council on Reproductive Technology - is being assembled to address fears about the lack of regulations in the booming fertility industry. Health and Welfare policy-makers have selected a leading lawyer as chairman-designate and will invite up to 19 experts to make up the council this month. Principal assistant secretary for health Derek Gould said the council would study aspects of reproductive treatment, ranging from drug injections and sperm donations to delicate laboratory techniques. 'Whatever system is brought into effect would apply to everybody. If a service is offered, it would have to be licensed,' Mr Gould said. Members would decide whether to draft legislation, write a code of conduct, leave issues to the conscience of doctors or apply all three safeguards. 'The main task will be to address the philosophy: should this be allowed, should that be allowed - where do you strike a balance between what the individual wants and what the community wants,' Mr Gould said. Practitioners might need certain skills, facilities and manpower to be registered, and a sliding scale of licences could be approved for various treatment levels. 'There are a number of research studies and work now going on at the universities, there is one private hospital which offers the service, a number of doctors are involved in artificial insemination and there's the Family Planning Association,' Mr Gould said. 'The decision will have to be taken: can a general practitioner perform some procedures, or should it be a gynaecologist or reproductive technology specialist?' Those who received licences might have to provide statistics on the number of cases treated. The chairman-designate was a practising lawyer with a 'great interest in the subject and familiarity with legislation' whose name would be released after formal appointment by the Governor, Mr Gould said. The chairman of the now-dissolved committee on scientifically assisted human reproduction, legislator Dr Leong Che-hung, welcomed the move and said the council should discuss the 'moral, legal, ethical and social aspects of the whole thing'. 'To me, it's urgent,' Dr Leong said. 'Artificial insemination has been in Hong Kong for 20 years and there are no regulations.'