Ethical fears stifle birth service Doctors practising reproductive medicine say they are still cautious about providing surrogacy services because of the complex ethical and legal issues involved. In the US and Britain, agents are commonly available to match couples with a suitable surrogate mother. Edward Loong Ping-leung, medical director of Union Hospital's reproductive medicine centre, said they had no plans to provide a surrogacy service. 'If there is a dispute between the commissioning couple and the surrogate mothers, a centre may be dragged into a legal claim. And if a surrogate mother has developed pregnancy-related complications, who should bear the medical claims?' he said. 'Most practitioners are watching who will be the first to provide the service. You can say, at this stage, we don't have the courage to do so.' He was speaking after it was revealed that at least two babies had been born to surrogate mothers in Hong Kong. Surrogacy is a form of assisted reproduction in which a woman agrees to give birth to a child for another couple to raise. Ernest Ng Hung-yu, associate professor in obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of Hong Kong, said its infertility centre had received three requests over the past 10 years for surrogacy, one from a local family and two from the mainland. 'We rejected the requests after taking into account the complex ethics and legal issues involved,' Dr Ng said. The Legislative Council passed the Human Reproductive Technology Ordinance in November 2000, almost two decades after the government started to discuss the topic. 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. The council will soon make public information of all licensed operators and their success rate and annual statistics. Milton Leong Ka-hong, director of Hong Kong Sanatorium Hospital's IVF centre, said his department had applied for a treatment licence covering surrogacy but it was never the centre's intention to promote the service. 'It is not a service that we will come out with in high profile and advertise. We just want to make the service available for couples with real needs.' Under the ordinance and a code of practice, a surrogacy can only be done when a woman is unable to carry a pregnancy to term and no other treatment option is available. Service centres must provide counselling by a multi-disciplinary team including doctors, a legal adviser, social worker or clinical psychologist. Dr Ng said the University of Hong Kong centre would not provide surrogacy services because of limited resources. 'We do not have a legal adviser to work with us on this complex issue, and we do not have enough resources to accommodate such a need. We do not feel comfortable to do so,' he said. According to the code, the mental and physical suitability of a woman to be a surrogate mother should be assessed by an independent doctor who is not involved in the reproductive technology procedures. Only women over the age of 21 who have given birth before can be surrogate mothers. Surrogacy should also require the consent of both the surrogate mother and her husband if she is married. The law also says 'no surrogacy arrangement is enforceable by or against any of the persons making it'. That means the surrogate mother will be the legal mother. The couple who arrange the surrogacy cannot force that woman to pass the baby to them for adoption.