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Thailand Seeks to Ban Commercial Surrogacy

Pattaramon Chanbua holds her son Gammy at a hospital in Thailand, Aug. 3, 2014. Gammy, a baby with Downs Syndrome was abandoned with Chanbua, his surrogate mother, by his Australian parents, according to local media. (AP Photo/Apichart Weerawong)

Pattaramon Chanbua holds her son Gammy at a hospital in Thailand, Aug. 3, 2014. Gammy, a baby with Downs Syndrome was abandoned with Chanbua, his surrogate mother, by his Australian parents, according to local media. (AP Photo/Apichart Weerawong)

Thailand is campaigning against commercial surrogacy, one of the world’s most unregulated industries. In this industry, infertile foreign couples pay Thai women to bear children. Experts report that the market is growing. They say the business produces hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

Over the past several months, Thailand has been an uncontrolled base for overseas surrogacy. Childless men and women from around the world use agencies based in Thailand that advertise for surrogates over the Internet.

Some seek local Thai doctors who will create embryos from donors or from a person who wants to become a parent. The embryos are then implanted in young Thai women. These women become paid surrogates. They offer their wombs to carry the babies until they are born.

But in August, police reportedly stopped two same-sex Australian couples and two American couples at a Bangkok airport. The couples were prevented from leaving the country with surrogate babies born to Thai women. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation made the report.

Now, Thailand’s government is proposing new legislation to ban surrogacy for money. The leader of the military government says bad publicity about surrogacy has led to criticism of the country.

Dr. Somsak Lolekha is chairman of the Medical Council of Thailand. He told VOA the proposed legislation will have an immediate effect.

“Most doctors stopped doing this because they worry. It’s not clear whether they will be put in jail -- or not -- as a criminal. We have to discuss with the government when they pass a law. It’s our duty to help the infertile people to have kids.”

Under Thai medical regulations, surrogate mothers are paid only for their expenses. Also, the mother should be a relative of one of the possible parents. Still, medical officials say current medical rules permit surrogacy by a woman unrelated to the genetic parents on a case-by-case basis.

Rarinthip Sirorat is director-general of Thailand’s Office of Prevention and Protection of Children, Youth, Elderly and Vulnerable Groups. She says foreign couples thinking of using Thai surrogate mothers should not do so.

“(It) has to be the relatives of the intended parents. So it is impossible for the foreign couples to have something like a close relative in Thailand.”

The proposed law calls for the surrogate mother to be a relative or a member of the family of the couple seeking to have a child. No surrogacy by artificial insemination would be permitted for same-sex couples or those who are not married.

Some key government officials are calling for a careful study among interest groups before a new law is passed.

Dr. Somsak Lolekha says if the legislation is put on a fast track, it will affect the future of thousands of babies now carried for foreigners by Thai surrogates.

“For those already pregnant, I think we have to help them for the sake of the baby. We have to do everything to help the child. They should go back to their genetic parents or their intended parents. And I think we have to try to help them so the parents can get their baby back to their home.”

Caspar Peek is the U.N. Population Fund’s representative in Thailand. He says legislation should protect the rights of the child, in his words, “first and foremost.” Mr. Peek also said legislation should protect the surrogate mother. And he said the law should protect the people who want to be parents whose genetic material -- or DNA -- is being used.

“(Because) once it becomes commercial then the motivations of women to accept this (commercial surrogacy) will change. You may get the wrong people into this; you may get very young girls, you may get very poor women, you may get women who are undernourished and of course that creates a risk to their health as well. And of course there are people who will make money on this -- and then it’s all not aboveboard anymore.”

Mr. Peek added that things also become involved and complicated when contracts -- legal agreements -- are involved.

“Contracts are often not enforceable. If you were to take a child out of Thailand, that is born by a surrogate mother without all the paperwork in order, and you will take this child into Australia or to New Zealand or any other country it’s highly probable that the authorities in your home country will not accept this child.”

International surrogacy grew in Thailand after India banned such services for same-sex couples last year. India also required that a man and woman be married for at least two years before trying to get a child through the surrogacy industry.

I’m Steve Herman.

This story was reported from Bangkok by VOA correspondent Steve Herman and correspondent Ron Corben. Marsha James wrote it for VOA Learning English. Jeri Watson was the editor.


Words in this Story

surrogate - n. a woman who agrees to become pregnant in order to give the baby to someone who cannot have children

embryo – n. a human or animal in the early stages of development before it is born

implant – v. to put something in a specified place

artificial insemination – n. a medical process in which semen is used to make a woman or female animal pregnant without sexual intercourse.

fast track – n. a process or way of proceeding that produces a desired result quickly

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