When babies become a business

opinion August 05, 2014 01:00

By The Nation

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Thailand is crying out for proper rules to govern surrogacy

The fate that has befallen baby Gammy reveals a gaping hole in Thailand’s policy on surrogacy and the urgent need for action to prevent more children suffering.
Shock and outrage greeted the disclosure by 21-year-old surrogate mother Pattaramon Chanbua that she had been left to take care of the baby after the Australian couple set to become his parents discovered the child had Down’s syndrome and a life-threatening heart condition.
Pattaramon, a street-food vendor from Chon Buri, had accepted an offer of Bt300,000 from an agent to be a surrogate mother for the Australian couple. The deal was meant to be a solution for financial difficulties Pattaramon and her family were suffering.
She and her husband agreed to the surrogacy, and a fertilised egg was implanted in her womb. Three months later Pattaramon realised she was carrying twins, for which the agent promised to give her an additional Bt50,000.
What should have been great news for all parties was complicated a month later with the discovery that one foetus had Down’s syndrome. The Australian parents were informed and responded by asking Pattaramon to have an abortion. The young mother refused, citing her belief that to do so would be a sin.   
When the babies were born, the agent took the healthy girl and left the boy. Pattaramon has never met the couple who were supposed to be mother and father to the boy.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of this case, one thing is certain: Gammy is an innocent victim. And whatever the circumstances of his birth, he has full rights to life and care. Pattaramon has a moral obligation to take care of him since she took on the responsibility for carrying the child. Despite her financial troubles, she must now find money for his medical treatment. Luckily, a charity in Australia has stepped in to raise funds for Gammy, though that money will run out someday. 
 The lesson here is that morality alone is an inadequate way of handling surrogacy, which has become a commercial business that needs to be properly policed. Pattaramon is not the first surrogate mother to have been left “holding the baby”. In fact, dozens of babies born to Thai surrogates in the past year reportedly remain in Thailand due to legal problems faced by their foreign parents.  
Some call the mothers greedy for agreeing to carry another’s child for money, but the high demand from couples around the world (and even in Thailand), offers many young women a way out of poverty. And giving life is no sin, according to Thai Buddhist belief.
Surrogacy is legal in Thailand, but only if a married couple ask a blood relative to carry their baby. Whether those rules should be relaxed has been a point of discussion among the Thai medical profession for years.
Pattaramon’s experience should be treated as a test case for Thai society in the quest to find a proper way to handle the issue of surrogacy. It is the time to think about creating clear rules to govern what has become a baby business in Thailand.