Baby Gammy Case Highlights Pitfalls of Surrogacy in Thailand

The baby Gammy case, which continues to make news headlines in Australia, raises issues germane to my PhD research on commercial surrogacy between Australia and Thailand. I have turned my reflections on the case into an article published by The Wheeler Centre.

handmaids1Is commercial surrogacy a form of child trafficking? In her book Being and Being Bought: Prostitution, Surrogacy and the Split Self, Swedish feminist academic Kajsa Ekis Ekman says that it is. She has an unlikely ally in Thailand’s military junta, which moved last week to crack down on the country’s unregulated surrogacy industry, threatening to use human trafficking laws to prosecute those who make illegal use of fertility technology.

In Australia, the crackdown is bound to be associated with the now infamous case of baby Gammy, reported in the media here last week. Born to a Thai surrogate who refused to abort the foetus after tests showed he had Down Syndrome, Gammy, now seven months old, was allegedly abandoned by his Australian parents, who took home his healthy twin sister.

But the circumstances surrounding the case are far from clear cut. And it’s only the latest in a series of incidents that have raised concerns about this controversial industry…

Read the rest of the article here.


About Angela Savage

Angela Savage is a Melbourne writer, who has lived and travelled extensively in Asia. She won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript, and the Scarlet Stiletto Award short story award. Her latest novel is, Mother of Pearl, published by Transit Lounge. Angela holds a PhD in Creative Writing, is former CEO of Writers Victoria, and currently works as CEO of Public Libraries Victoria.
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14 Responses to Baby Gammy Case Highlights Pitfalls of Surrogacy in Thailand

  1. kathy d. says:

    Excellent and thorough article on the crisis of surrogacy in Thailand, specifically in relationship to Australians who want children and brokers who profit from the arrangement.
    Just last week the New York Times wrote articles about a crooked surrogacy ring in Mexico, which took money and didn’t produce babies, and about another “broker” who had a Facebook page advertising the surrogacy services available, but it was only a money-making operation.
    I do agree with some of what Kajsa Ekis Ekman says. It’s complicated. There are wealthy people who want babies, and poor women who can earn money by providing babies — but often lose their rights to do so — and agencies, brokers, lawyers who profit off this arrangement.
    And the baby is a commodity. With a healthy baby comes payment to all. Without one, often no money is paid or penalties are imposed.
    There are so many issues here: the finances involved in all this, the unscrupulous brokers, the profits they make, the lack of background checks on “parents,” as shown in the Gammy case, the rights of the surrogate mother to live her life and not be imprisoned during pregnancy, and also her right to choose not to have an abortion if it violates her beliefs, despite pressure to do so. Is a woman in a situation of indentured servitude for nine months, especially in a poor country? Also, what happens to infants like Gammy and are not healthy? Are some neglected and left to the government agencies to care for or do the surrogate mothers take them if the contracting couple won’t? Are any abandoned?
    Having just read that 1 out of 120 babies are born in the U.S. with some type of chronic heart disease, I wonder what that means in surrogacy arrangements.
    I don’t know if it’s possible in this world in such economic inequities if this can be fair. It’s not like a regular job. This is nine months of a woman’s life, perhaps lived in exploitative conditions, and in which, through no fault of her own, she can give birth to a sick child — and then what? She isn’t paid? The baby may have no caretaker.
    Surrogacy has always bothered me. If a relative or friend wants to carry a baby out of wanting to help someone and no money is involved, that’s one thing. Maybe even if potential parents work with the surrogate mother and help her directly, with no third party profiting from this arrangement, it might work out. But then there’s the issue of surrogate mothers becoming
    attached to the baby and not wanting to give it up. A big case happened here years ago on this, and the surrogate mother lost because the “contract” took priority.
    Yet there are celebrities over here who used surrogates to have children and there
    were no scandals or news articles about them. But we don’t know what really went on.
    Your article covers a lot. I’m asking a lot of questions, but these would occur to many people, and seem obvious.


    • angelasavage says:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Kathy. The more I mull over the issues in my head, the more confused I become. I feel for people who want to have children but can’t. At the same time, the surrogacy industry is so open to abuses – especially where it operates as little more than a black market baby trade.


  2. kathy d. says:

    And what about adoption? There are millions of children who need families. Kishwar Desai raises this in her book, “Origins of Love,” in discussing the vast numbers of abandoned children in India.
    What is it about many people wanting a child with their genetic make-up rather than simply a child to love? I understand the urge to have children, but years ago as when I was a child, people turned to adoption. This had its problems decades ago, as often teenagers were coerced to give up babies and never knew what happened to them, often causing years of anguish. Today, adoption is more enlightened; often the biological mother can choose the adoptive parents and maintain contact with them and see the baby, receive photos, etc.
    Lots of children in my city need adopting, am sure this is true worldwide.


    • angelasavage says:

      Adoption is complex as an alternative to IVF/surrogacy for several reasons. In Australia, we have two historical legacies involving abusive separation of children from their birth parents: the Stolen Generations involving the forced removal of Aboriginal children from their families under a policy of assimilation; and the Forced Adoption practice in the 1950s and 70s of taking the babies of unmarried mothers against their will and putting them up for adoption. Australians are, naturally, extremely wary of a repeat of such abuses.

      The other issue involves timing. Adoption is rarely the first choice in a response to infertility and couples will go through years of ART before they concede defeat. This can leave them too old to be eligible to adopt, or at least to adopt a baby. Overseas adoption rules and regulations are subject to change at little notice, and very few Australian-born babies are available for adoption.

      I would personally have chosen adoption over IVF or surrogacy as a pathway to parenthood, but not everyone feels the same way. Many people who have struggled through years of infertility strongly resent suggestions they should adopt.


  3. kathy d. says:

    Omigosh. Of course, there are difficulties in Australia due to the forced removal of Indigenous children from their families. My first realization of that was in the film “Rabbit-Proof Fence,” which was shocking. And, yes, taking babies from teens forcibly is so wrong. This happened here, too.
    While I knew children and teens who had been adopted in my childhood and adolescence and seemed fine and happy, a friend told me of two high school friends in the 1950s whose babies were taken away. The two women suffered for years. One found her child and they became close — and to her entire adoptive family. The other’s child was found but rebuffed her, causing more anguish.
    Today there is a much more enlightened attitude about adoption. A TV show showed a teen who chose the adoptive couple, could call them, see the baby sometimes, etc. She seemed to be fine and went on to college. I hope this is widespread.
    Yet, years ago there were thefts of babies, lies told to mothers, and sales of babies. I’m sure this still goes on around the globe as babies are commodities, a problem which shouldn’t be.
    Every Wednesday a news segment comes on one channel featuring children in the city’s foster care system or living in city facilities. They want families. The program has gone on for years and 100s of children have been adopted. These are older children; some have special needs.
    The foster care systems here are on overload with so many children who need families. So many of them are terrible, get little funding, are understaffed. It is an issue here, as is neglect and abuse.
    The film “Philomena,” with Judy Densh brought up the issue of the Church forcibly taking children from their mothers, forcing them to be indentured servants, as in the Magdalene Laundries, and then selling the children. This was widespread in Ireland. Don’t know if it went on elsewhere, but I’d imagine so. I can’t even think about this nor about Philomena’s son who went back to the convent looking for his mother years later, and three times he was told they never heard of her.
    So, these abuses may have abated in this scenario, but selling babies who are being “boarded,” as Jayne finds out in Thailand is still abusive all the way around and again based on a child as a commodity, and hurtful to the mother.
    It seems to be finances and babies/children shouldn’t be mised. The governments should really take care of children and adoptions should be done without money changing hands — unless an agency is scrupulous, has transparency and hasn’t committed any crimes.


    • angelasavage says:

      I thought PHILOMENA was a brilliant film. And yes, we had ‘Magdalens’ in Australia, too, at the convent where my great-aunt was a nun. These were ‘wayward’ girls put to work in the convent laundries. I knew some who, then in their fifties, whose families had never claimed them. Bloody tragic.


  4. Margot Kinberg says:

    Angela – Surrogacy raises such difficult issues and they get more complex the more one thinks about it. There are of course issues about corruption and illegal/unethical things that happen in the surrogacy world. But it’s also to me a deeper philosophical question: just because we have the science to do something, does that mean we should? I’m not saying there should be no surrogacy. I am saying though that perhaps it’s one of those cases where a breakthrough was made possible before people really addressed the issues around it. And if the Baby Gammy case is any indication, surrogacy has tremendous consequences for everyone involved. Untangling all of this will take dedicated scholars like yourself and an informed public and law enforcement.


    • angelasavage says:

      Thanks for your comments, Margot. I do think technological advances have fundamentally changed ideas of what it means to be ‘infertile’ – and raised expectations about what’s possible with respect to having children. Of course, it’s difficult for people to accept not making use of technology when we have it.

      But it comes as no surprise that surrogacy generates so much crime fiction – something for a future blog post, once I finish my PhD reading.


  5. FictionFan says:

    I must admit paid surrogacy has always left me feeling deeply uneasy – as does paid organ donation, paid blood donation or all the other things whereby those with wealth use the poverty of others to consolidate their existing advantage. It’s one of the reasons I’m a dedicated believer in the British NHS – where all treatment is free at the point of use. Sure, the wealthy can still go private and get a prettier room if they like, or even skip to the head of the queue for surgery, but even the poorest person will still get heart surgery – or IVF – if they need it, and it will be the same doctors who carry out the procedures. Sadly it still doesn’t stop people going abroad if they want something outwith the ‘rules’. Maybe cases like these will highlight the issues and start a much-needed debate about ethics – as Margot said, just because we can doesn’t always mean we should.


    • angelasavage says:

      We cherish our public health care system in Australia, too, FF. sadly, the current government is attempting to undermine this, making ours more like the US system – which could not possibly bode well in light of the problems raised by the commodification of health and life.


  6. kathy d. says:

    Sorry to keep going but I’ll add on another issue, too, that was mentioned in the NY Times series and has been discussed in the press here: the business of selling eggs to be used in IVF for some surrogacy cases. That’s another profit-making industry with unscrupulous brokers, the go-betweens who make money on the deal. This means giving hormones to younger women so their bodies produce more eggs. And then they have to have surgical procedures for egg retrievals. The high dosages of hormones, in particular, and the surgery can harm the women donors. There is concern that the continual use of hormones can be cancer-causing.
    Again, this is all based on money transactions.


  7. kathy d. says:

    I agree with Fiction Fan on the British health system and everyone having access to it, so no one is denied care.
    To go off on a tangential issue on something close to me showing income disparities in medical research, here is how it just affected me. I was asked to get genetic testing by my doctor as there are many cases of cancer in my family, including in my immediate family. OK. I did it.
    The genetics testing lab called me to tell me my government health insurance didn’t cover it based on family history alone. I would have to be sick myself.
    However, I read at the lab’s website that there is a lower cost for low-income individuals. So I asked about that. I’m not eligible to pay the low cost because I’m on the government program! No one who’s on governmental health insurance can have genetic testing covered, even with a strong family history of cancer, nor can we pay for it ourselves at a reduced rate even though we are low-income individuals. So, Catch-22. One has to cough up $2700 – $4000 or have excellent private insurance. For the rest of us, nothing unless we get cancer ourselves.
    So, here is advanced technological research and testing, and a lot of us can’t access it.


  8. maria says:

    I want to adopt baby gammy


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