Bangkok a popular place for desperate couples who want to start a family
Singaporeans desperate to start a family have gone to countries such as Malaysia, India, the United States and Thailand and paid six-figure sums for a stranger to carry their baby.
Those in the know say people from Singapore have been having babies through surrogate mothers for at least the past decade. And in recent years, Bangkok has become a popular place for Singaporeans to rent a womb.
One man who advertises surrogacy services is Michael Ho, who runs Singapore-based Asian Surrogates. He said: “Singaporeans like to go to Bangkok as it’s nearby and costs about the same as Malaysia. The Bangkok facilities are world-class and doctors are very experienced.” But he fears that may change in the wake of the Baby Gammy controversy, where a baby boy with Down syndrome was born to a young Thai surrogate and allegedly abandoned by his Australian parents.
The case has attracted international attention, leading the Thai authorities to crack down on doctors who perform commercial surrogacy procedures.
“I expect my business to take a total hit as Thai doctors are now afraid to do surrogacy procedures, as they risk losing their medical licences,” said Mr Ho. “I have to explore sending new clients to India or close down.”
The 60-year-old described himself as a property agent who went into the surrogacy business as a “sideline” business in 2006.
He charges his clients US$49,000 and that includes the surrogate mother’s fees – “slightly more than half” – as well as what he pays his Thai agents. The couples pay more for in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatments and other hospital charges.
He said he has been getting under 10 clients a year, mostly Malaysians and Indonesians. It was only in recent years that a few Singaporeans have used his service. “Surrogacy is not widely accepted in Singapore and in this part of the world,” he said.
While there are no laws that explicitly prohibit surrogacy in Singapore, Health Ministry guidelines state that facilities providing assisted reproduction services are not allowed to carry out surrogate arrangements.
Ho said that when he started his baby business, he sent his clients to Kuala Lumpur and Johor Baru for the surrogacy procedure. The surrogates were Malaysian and Filipino women, including poor single mothers.
But in 2008 the National Council of Islamic Religious Affairs in Malaysia issued a fatwa banning surrogacy. Ho said after that Malaysian doctors preferred not to perform the procedure, so he began sending his clients to Bangkok. He said his Singaporean clients are well-to-do couples in their 30s and 40s, who had tried IVF many times but failed and did not want to adopt a child.
The Thai surrogate mothers were often poor village women under 25 years old. After adding the cost of IVF treatment, a couple using a Thai surrogate could easily spend $100,000 before having their baby, he said.