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An embryo has the right to be loved
HONG KONG (SE): The welfare and the rights of babies born to surrogate mothers were the major issues looked into at a conference organised by the Bioethics Resources Centre of the Holy Spirit Seminary College of Theology and Philosophy, together with the Diocesan Pastoral Commission for Marriage and the Family on December 10.
The Bioethics Conference has been held annually at the Caritas Institute of Higher Education, Tseung Kwan O, over the past four years and last year speakers were invited to discuss the controversies surrounding surrogacy from the legal, medical and ethical points of view.
A barrister, Denis Chang Khen-lee, said surrogacy impinges on various legal and ethical areas.
He pointed out that in countries where surrogacy is a legal business, respect for human life is being challenged, as babies are being reduced to the status of a tradable commodity, often involving huge sums of money.
The barrister said that in Hong Kong, surrogacy comes under the Human Reproductive Technology and the Parent and Child Ordinances, which describe it as a non-commercial act in which any remuneration is prohibited.
He explained that surrogacy agreements have no legal-binding power in Hong Kong, as the woman giving birth to the baby is presumed to be the legal mother.
Intended parents need to apply to a court for a parental order within six months of the birth of the baby.
Chang explained that the intended parents of a child born to a surrogate mother have no legal guarantees and no basis from which to challenge for parental custody if the gestational mother refuses to give up the baby or her parental rights.
Consequently, if a baby carried by a surrogate mother is discovered to have certain disabilities, the intended parents have no right to ask for an abortion.
Historically, there have been cases of the intended parents deciding to abandon a baby when it was discovered to be suffering from Down’s Syndrome, even in the embryonic stage.
On the other hand, some children born to a surrogate mother have tried to look for her in later life, as they feel confused as to who their biological mother is.
Father Dominic Lui Chi-man, from the Bioethics Resources Centre, quoted from a document titled Respect for Human Life in Origin and the Dignity of Procreation issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1987.
Father Lui quoted the document as saying that surrogacy or the use of a donor’s embryo runs against the unity of marriage and the dignity of human procreation.
He said that it is wrong to deprive the life of an embryo of its right to enjoy its mother’s love in the womb, as technically, a gestational mother only carries a baby to service a need or desire of an intended parent or parents.
He emphasised that life is a gift from God, not from the parents, and societies must have respect for the dignity of life.
Father Lui said an embryo should develop in the womb of its mother and within the love of its parents, but reproductive technology has separated the human procreation process and the completion of the marriage act.
He said the technology of making test tube babies demonstrates a disrespect for life as more than one embryo has to be created in a laboratory so as to increase the chance of falling pregnant.
The extra and unwanted embryos can then be frozen for a maximum of 10 years and in the process can be damaged or reduced to the status of material for further biological studies.
Father Liu emphasised that human life begins with the fertilisation of an egg and the embryo is already a life, which should not be treated without its due dignity.
“Life is not only the combination of two reproductive cells, but a gift from God,” Father Lui stressed.
Li Hang-wun, a doctor from the Centre of Assisted Reproduction and Embryology of the University of Hong Kong and Queen Mary Hospital, addressed surrogacy from a medical point of view.
He explained that surrogacy can be conducted in two ways. One involves the transfer of a fertile embryo manufactured in a laboratory into the womb of a surrogate, or gestational mother through thin tubes.
He pointed out that this process is commonly used by women who are unable to conceive or carry a baby in their own wombs.
The other process is used by couples where the man cannot produce fertile semen or the woman appropriate eggs.
It uses the semen or the eggs of a third party and then the embryo is implanted into the womb of a surrogate mother.
Li pointed out that reproductive technology centres in Hong Kong have to be licenced to carry out fertility treatments like in vitro fertilisation (commonly known as IVF), intrauterine insemination (commonly known as IUI), use of donor gametes or embryos, as well as surrogacy.
Although surrogacy is not illegal in Hong Kong, none of the licenced centres in the city hold a valid surrogacy licence.
Li said that the two surrogacy methods have a success rate of between 30 and 50 per cent, but clarified that intended fathers and mothers must undergo a medical examination beforehand, so as to avoid transmitting diseases to the embryo or the surrogate mother.
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