Abandoned baby with Down syndrome may prompt bans on surrogacy
Issued on: Modified:
Reports that an Australian couple abandoned a baby with Down syndrome with his surrogate mother in Thailand could lead to bans on surrogacy in both countries, a surrogate support group told France 24 on Saturday, warning against a knee-jerk reaction.
Surrogate mother Pattaramon Chanbua gave birth to baby Gammy, who has a congenital heart problem as well as Down syndrome, in December. While the Australian couple took home Gammy's healthy twin sister, they left him behind, according to media reports.
Commercial surrogacy, in which a woman is paid to carry a child, is banned within Australia. Some states, however, allow for a so-called altruistic surrogate, who receives no payment beyond medical and other reasonable expenses.
“There is no incentive for a woman to do it, so that has resulted in a real lack of surrogates in Australia. This forces a lot of couples to look abroad,” said Rachel Kunde of support and advocacy group Surrogacy Australia.
Laws over international commercial surrogacy vary in Australia: some states allow it, but it is illegal in New South Wales and Queensland. Still, the number of parents choosing this option is growing. Surrogacy Australia estimates that between 400 and 500 babies are born to Australian parents through a surrogate each year. Some couples go to the United States, but Thailand and India are considerably cheaper and thus more popular destinations.
Changes in Thailand
In Thailand, however, the blooming baby business has come under fire by the new military junta, which took power in May.
The Thai government is currently auditing all 12 Thai IVF clinics. Surrogacy Australia also reported that most Thai-based surrogacy websites have been taken off-line while the content is reviewed to ensure it complies with Thai medical guidelines.
The government has also proposed new laws regulating, and potentially banning, commercial surrogacy.
The publicity surrounding the reported abandonment of the little boy gave the government further impetus. According to Kunde, it has shut down many of the “less reputable” agents in the last week.
“Up until now, surrogacy was largely unregulated in Thailand,” Kunde said. “The interim Thai government realized that there were rogue operators and they decided to try to take action.”
'Incredibly sad story’
Media reports about abandoned baby Gammy have also provoked widespread reactions in Australia.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott called it "an incredibly sad story" that “illustrates some of the pitfalls involved in this particular business.”
A spokesman for Australia's foreign affairs department told the AFP news agency it was in consultation with Thai authorities over surrogacy issues.
While Kunde supports further regulation, she says she is worried this scandal will cause Australian politicians to push for a global ban on international commercial surrogacy.
“I’m worried about a knee-jerk reaction, which is always a possibility when stories like this get spread in the media,” Kunde said.
“What doesn’t get reported are the positive surrogacy stories: hundreds of babies are brought back each year and it goes really well,” she continued. “There was even another case of a couple who had a baby with a serious genetic condition. They brought their baby home. This story doesn’t really reflect the majority of Australian parents, who really care about their babies.”
Kunde says she is heartened by an online campaign to raise money for medical treatment for the little boy left with his surrogate mother in Thailand.
The online campaign has raised more than 135,000 Australian dollars (about 93,600 euros) through donations for the child, who needs urgent medical treatment that his surrogate mother says she can’t afford.