Conflicting claims over Thai surrogate baby case

  • 4 August 2014
  • From the section Asia
Media captionSix-months-old Gammy has a congenital heart condition as well as Down's syndrome

An Australian couple have denied abandoning a baby boy with Down's Syndrome, who was born to a surrogate mother in Thailand.

Pattharamon Chanbua, 21, was paid by the couple to have their child. But they took home only one baby when she had twins, leaving behind Gammy.

The parents of baby Gammy have told local media that they were only told about his healthy twin sister.

But the surrogate said the father visited the twins in the hospital.

Ms Chanbua has claimed that she was asked by the couple to have an abortion once they knew about Gammy's condition. But she refused as it was against her Buddhist beliefs.

She plans to keep Gammy and raise him as her own child. Besides Down's syndrome, the six-month-old baby has a congenital heart condition and a lung infection.

The case has made international headlines and caused an uproar particularly in Australia, where both Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Immigration Minister Scott Morrison have expressed regret over the situation.

Press reaction

Image caption The Australian press has sharply condemned Gammy's abandonment
  • "It is an act so cruel and mercenary you struggle to believe anyone who thinks they have what it takes to be a parent could go through with it… The ripple effect of their choices will be felt by thousands of people." - Herald Sun
  • "Is this then, who we are now? A nation so rich that we can easily hurdle the problem of infertility by travelling abroad to pay poorer women to have our children; and yet so poor in spirit that we would then abandon those infants for the crime of being born… somehow less than perfect? The answer is no. Not all of us are like that. Good people [have] opened their wallets and donated… to Gammy's care." - The Australian
  • "It is a matter of shame to me that the parents who abandoned baby Gammy to his fate are Australian. But I would like all Thai readers to know that Australians almost to a man and woman have stood up in outrage at the unconscionable behaviour of these parents. Surrogacy lawyers, children's rights activists and a broad cross section of the general public have expressed their disbelief rallied in support of Gammy." Reader's letter, Bangkok Post

The parents reportedly told Channel 9 that they had a daughter of Gammy's age but she did not have a brother.

They said they had experienced trouble with the surrogacy agency, describing it as "traumatising".

The unnamed couple, who live south of Perth, also denied any knowledge of a son to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

"We saw a few people at the hospital. We [didn't] know who the surrogate was - it was very confusing. There was a language barrier," they said.

They added that they had saved for a long time to pay for the surrogacy and it had "taken every cent we have". They have been told that the agency now no longer exists, claims the father.

But Ms Chanbua told Fairfax Media that the father, who is in his 50s, "came to the hospital to take care of the girl but never looked Gammy in the face or carried him", even though the two babies stayed next to each other.

She also said she was now considering suing the parents.

Image caption Ms Chanbua plans to keep Gammy and raise him as her own child
Image caption Ms Chanbua has two young children of her own, besides Gammy

Politicians have since weighed in, with Mr Abbott calling it an "incredibly sad story". He said the Australian government would look into the case,

Mr Morrison meanwhile said that the law surrounding the case was "very, very murky" and noted that the case had happened in another country's jurisdiction.

His office told the Associated Press news agency that Gammy might be eligible for Australian citizenship. If he became a citizen, he would be entitled to free medical care in Australia.

The Attorney-General's Department said in a statement sent to the BBC that, together with Thai authorities, the Australian government was now examining "broader legal and other issues relating to surrogacy in Thailand".

Media captionFootage shows Gammy in hospital, being cared for by his Thai surrogate mother

It is illegal to pay for surrogacy in Australia, so couples have to find a surrogate who is happy to carry the child for no payment beyond medical and other reasonable expenses.

The difficulty in finding such surrogates has prompted some Australians to head overseas for commercial surrogacy arrangements.

So far only three Australian states - the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales and Queensland - ban their residents from doing so. Gammy's biological parents reside in Western Australia.

Commercial surrogacy is largely unregulated in Thailand and is a flourishing industry, although the military government is now looking into cracking down on clinics following Ms Chanbua's case, report agencies.

An online fundraising campaign so far has raised more than $210,000 (£124,800) to help her with Gammy's medical expenses.

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