Medics feel city isn't ready for the ethical leap to paid-for pregnancies, never mind the cost and risk of legal disputes Surrogate motherhood is not the answer to Hong Kong's rock-bottom birth rate despite the concerns over the consequences of an ageing population, say experts. Leong Che-hung, the chairman of the Council on Human Reproductive Technology, also warned that surrogacy could trigger legal disputes if the surrogate mother refused to give up her child. The South China Morning Post revealed yesterday that former legislator Christine Loh Kung-wai and her boyfriend, Craig Ehrlich, have a baby girl - Leah Norma Ehrlich - born in the United States from an egg donated by a Chinese woman but carried by a third woman. Although Hong Kong law permits surrogacy under limited circumstances, the city is still to have its first surrogate baby and a legislator said yesterday that he believed the community still had not accepted the practice. The couple's decision was condemned as immoral by Father Marciano Baptista, of Holy Spirit Seminary College under the Catholic diocese of Hong Kong. He said the fact that the egg did not even belong to Ms Loh made the conflict with the Catholic faith more severe in this case. Since 2000, surrogacy involving payment has been banned in Hong Kong. The sperm and eggs must come from a married couple and the surrogate mother has to be both physically and mentally capable of bearing the child. Dr Leong said the Human Reproductive Technology Ordinance covering surrogacy was mainly to provide an option for women who were unfit physically for pregnancy or unable to conceive, for example as a result of having had ovaries removed. But only a small percentage of women would fit these categories under the legal requirements. 'So the practice would not help boost the city's birth rate because the law itself is not for the purpose of promoting surrogacy in Hong Kong,' he said. 'Neither is the law intended to provide an option for women who want to have children but feel reluctant to go through pregnancy. 'The law is to prevent the abuse of the new technology and to protect the welfare of the child.' Dr Leong said the surrogate mother was the legal mother of the child under the existing law even though the egg did not belong to her. So legal disputes over custody would arise if the surrogate mother refused to give up the child. He said Hong Kong was yet to produce its first surrogate child. Legislator Kwok Ka-ki, deputy chairman of the health-care services panel, said he agreed that surrogacy would not help boost the city's birth rate because it was a costly procedure. 'Surrogacy involves a lot of ethical issues such as who is the mother of that child. I believe that the community still has not accepted the practice,' Dr Kwok said. University of Hong Kong statistician Paul Yip Siu-fai, who has expressed his concerns over Hong Kong's low birth rate, also said surrogacy should not be treated as a means of boosting it. The Hospital Authority provides in vitro fertilisation (IVF) services to married couples only in three of its hospitals - Queen Mary, Prince of Wales and Kwong Wah. Hong Kong Sanatorium and Hospital, which carried out the city's first successful IVF pregnancy in 1986, said it provided the service only to married couples and did not handle surrogate pregnancies. 'Surrogacy involves a lot of ethical issues such as who is the mother of that child'