News Colette Browne

Sunday 21 September 2014

Baby Gammy reveals the murky world 
of wombs-for-hire and children for sale

Colette Brown

Published 06/08/2014 | 02:30

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Pattaramon Chanbua (21) poses with her children Game (7) and Baby Gammy at a hospital in Chonburi province, Thailand. Photo: Apichart Weerawong/AP

The story of Baby Gammy shines a light on a murky world where wombs are for hire and babies can be ordered for the price of a used car.

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When a 21-year-old Thai woman, Pattaramon Chanbua, opted to become a surrogate mother, she did not do it for altruistic reasons.

She was already a mother of two children, working in a menial job, and her family was heavily in debt.

Surrogacy was a means to provide for her children's education and escape her financial woes.

She was paid €10,000, a huge sum in a country where the GDP per capita last year, according to the IMF, was just €4,200.

Despite commercial surrogacy being illegal in Thailand, lax regulation means that it happens with impunity.

The only reason that Ms Chanbua has become a household name is because of Baby Gammy, the seven-month-old with Down's syndrome she is now caring for.

She claims that when the Australian couple paying her to procreate discovered that one of the twins she was carrying had been diagnosed with Down's syndrome, they demanded she have an abortion.

Ms Chanbua said she refused and the couple then abandoned the boy when he was born, refusing to even look at him when they collected his 
sister.

The couple deny this version of events and, in a statement released through a friend yesterday, said they were "devastated" by reports they had blithely discarded their son.

"Gammy was very sick when he was born and the biological parents were told he would not survive and he had a day, at best, to live and to say goodbye," it said.

Not addressed in the statement is whether the parents made any effort at all to try to determine if their son was alive or dead once they returned home with his sister.

More disturbingly, Australian media have claimed the 56-year-old biological father is a convicted paedophile who served two prison sentences for molesting young girls.

The story would seem to confirm one's worst suspicions about the unscrupulous nature of commercial surrogacy, where money trumps morality.

Outlawed in most Western countries, because of a belief that free market enterprise should not be extended to a trade in babies, commercial surrogacy is booming in third-world countries.

To satisfy this burgeoning baby market, impoverished women are confined to squalid dormitories for the duration of their pregnancies.

CNN recently reported that 50 Indian women were housed in one such hostel, rendering it a veritable baby-making factory.

Oftentimes, the fee they receive for their labour is a lot less than promised, with women receiving as little as €600, according to the Centre for Social Research in New Delhi.

There have also been well-documented reports of human trafficking and baby-selling rings springing up in order to satisfy the insatiable desire of Western couples for their perfect family.

It's a business that thrives on exploitation and would wither without it.

It is doubtful that a commercial surrogacy company based in Ireland would be able to find the requisite number of desperate women to make the venture profitable.

So, the practice is largely confined to developing countries where women feel they have no other option but to agree to a nine-month stint as a human incubator.

Given the proliferation of dubious brokers and private clinics advertising online, it is difficult for even the most well-intentioned Western couples to know if the women they are hiring are willing participants or coerced serfs.

And, if something does go wrong, as the Baby Gammy story shows, it is the women, and not their rich benefactors, who are left dealing with the consequences.

It's a tragic story that won't be repeated in Ireland once the Child and Family Relationships Bill, which outlaws commercial surrogacy, comes into force later this year.

Following the enactment of the Bill, those travelling to developing countries to hire surrogates could even be prosecuted and denied a declaration of parentage once their children are born.

While couples will be unable to pay women to have their children, altruistic surrogacy, in which no money other than reasonable expenses changes hands, will be lawful.

This is the best possible answer to an ethical minefield, which aims to ensure that human life is not cheapened by becoming the subject of grubby commercial transactions.

Irish Independent

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