Pattaramon Chanbua, a 21-year-old food vendor in Thailand’s seaside town of Sri Racha, agreed to become a surrogate for an Australian couple early last year. Chanbua, who also has a 7-year-old son and a 3-year-old daughter, said she approached a surrogacy agency on Facebook because she and her husband needed money to pay off debts. She was promised 300,000 baht ($9,300) in exchange for carrying the couple’s baby.
A few months into the pregnancy, doctors discovered Chanbua was carrying fraternal twins. But it wasn’t until the seventh month of her pregnancy that the doctors and the agency told her the boy, whom they named Gammy, had Down syndrome and a congenital heart condition. They suggested she have an abortion just for him.
As a Buddhist, Chanbua strongly rejected the idea, believing that having the abortion would be sinful. “I asked them, ‘Are you still humans?’ I really wanted to know,” she said.
The parents, who live in Western Australia but have not been identified in media reports, took Gammy’s healthy twin sister back to Australia, leaving Chanbua to care for Gammy, now 7 months old. Doctors in Thailand are treating Gammy, who has blond hair and dark brown eyes, for an infection in his lungs.
Chanbua’s case highlights problems associated with a practice in which babies are “manufactured,” and if manufactured “incorrectly,” have the potential to be returned. Surrogacy has become a rising problem in Thailand since India enacted more commercial surrogacy restrictions in 2012. Both Indian and Thai surrogates offer their services to couples from countries like Australia, the United Kingdom, and Israel for a lower price than surrogates in the United States, one of a dwindling number of countries were international surrogacy is legal. Thai officials said last week they knew of 50 surrogate babies born for Israeli couples who were not able to travel to Israel due to nationality issues.
After conducting an investigation of 12 fertility clinics, Thai officials announced last week new laws regulating surrogacy. The country now only allows altruistic, or uncompensated, surrogacy for medically infertile, heterosexual married couples, if the surrogate is a blood relative. Officials also announced that taking the child out of the country without permission from Thai authorities would be classified as human trafficking under the country’s trafficking laws.
Australia’s government is considering intervening in Chanbua’s case. “We are taking a close look at what can be done here, but I wouldn’t want to raise any false hopes or expectations,” Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morris told Sydney Radio 2GB. “We are dealing with something that has happened in another country’s jurisdiction.” Morrison’s spokesman, Julian Leembruggen, later declined to say what type of intervention the government was considering.
An online campaign by the Australian charity organization Hands Across the Water has raised more than $200,000 to help support Gammy. Mora Kelly, founder of the Children First Foundation, which brings sick children from developing countries to Australia for medical treatment, said she has discussed with Hands Across the Water bringing Gammy to Melbourne for heart surgery. “I believe that this child should be able to access our health care system here in Australia,” she told Australian Broadcasting Corp.
Chanbua is still waiting to receive the rest of the unpaid compensation money from the surrogacy agency: She said she plans to file a complaint with the Thai police. Regardless, Chanbua said Sunday she was not angry with the biological parents for leaving Gammy behind and that she hoped they would take care of the boy’s twin sister.
“I’ve never felt angry at them or hated them,” she said. “I’m always willing to forgive them. I want to see that they love the baby girl as much as my family loves Gammy. I want her to be well taken care of.”
But Chanbua doesn’t recommend that other women follow her example. “I would like to tell Thai women—don’t get into this business as a surrogate,” she told The Sydney Morning Herald. “Don’t just think only for money. … If something goes wrong, no one will help us and the baby will be abandoned from society, then we have to take responsibility for that.”