Surrogacy has become a seedy business

07:21, Aug 05 2014
gammy land
SWEET BOY: Gammy, a baby born with Down Syndrome, is kissed by his surrogate mother, Pattaramon Janbua, at a hospital in Chonburi province, Thailand.

The case of baby Gammy just got even more disturbing.  

Not only does it seem an Australian couple abandoned their biological son born to a surrogate because he had Down syndrome. But it's now alleged the father has a previous conviction and done jail time for 'indecently dealing' with a child under thirteen. 

Understandably their surrogate mother wants the girl now returned to her.  

While the Australian parents are denying they knew about the existence of their baby boy, the ABC has three sources that indicates they did.  It also understands the parents ordered terminations of both children, then only decided they'd take the girl after the birth and wanted to leave the boy in a Thai institution.

If the father's conviction for child sex offences is true, this story has taken a truly hideous and ominous turn.  If not, it's still ugly.

Parenthood is both a lottery and a responsibility.  Having a child requires the adjusting of dreams and the acceptance of reality.


You never know what the DNA will deliver and few have the perfect baby they imagined.  

If your child has a disability or major health problems you cry, you mourn the life you predicted for you and them, you get all the help you can get and then you give them all you can give. You cop it and it can be sweet.

But lets not focus our anger too narrowly. There are many more villains in the entire baby making business.

Third party pregnancy is a growing unregulated global industry within medical tourism.  The confronting consequences were sure to be exposed sooner or later.

The truth is there are lots of baby Gammys abandoned by parents who paid for perfection.  There have been abortions ordered against a surrogate's religious beliefs.  

There have female and male embryos destroyed because of gender selection. There have been eggs sold on the black market.  

Healthy foetuses have been terminated because proposed parents asked for multiple embryos to improve their chances or even implanted two surrogates and then ordered a 'reduction'.

There have been surrogate orphans abandoned when couples have broken up during the pregnancy.  

There has been terrible mistreatment of surrogates. There have been scams on desperate parents by dodgy agencies.

And, now, we need to consider the awful possibility there could be children being bred for abuse. 

This is what happens when you outsource life in a global transaction - it becomes a white-collar black market.

When I wrote about international surrogacy last year I held myself back from my disquiet about the industry. 

I was mindful of the gay and straight couples and singles desperate for a baby.  I understood their desire and pain. I recognised many demanded good care and best practice for their surrogates.  

I didn't want to judge women who desire economic empowerment and can earn more than ten times their annual surrogacy by renting their womb.

But the fact is, buying babies has become a seedy business.

Surrogacy is an unequal transaction and a messy, largely unregulated industry that's exploitative.

It could be argued there is exploitation of the middle class couples or singles who desperately want a baby.

Their parental pain is mined. But the fact is exploitation is drastically unequal and largely one-way.  And it's deliberate. Want-to-be parents don't just go to India and Thailand because it's cheaper than in America but often because the usually poor and uneducated surrogates have fewer rights and there is less legal scrutiny than if surrogacy was taking place in their country (if it is legal there at all).  

While some form sweet relationships with surrogates the industry is a new form of neo-colonialism.
On ABC's Foreign Correspondent last year two stories beautifully illustrated how the baby business is a synergy of wealthy desperation and grinding poverty.  

One in India featured a newborn carried to a doting new mother on a metal tray, women lying side by side on cots in a baby factory as they awaited caesarean deliveries (despite the fact vaginal births are usually better for recovery and subsequent children) and the hot tears of a woman who lost 4 babies conceived on IVF. 

The show from Mexico told heartbreaking story of an illegal immigrant grieving after miscarrying twins she'd been contracted to grow.

Like last night's 7.30 (Australian TV) Report featuring Gammy's surrogate crying as she talked of feeling the kick of him inside, they dramatically illustrate the gulf between the uneducated, poor surrogates and the rich westerners dependent on a stranger to fulfil their dream.   

After changes to the Indian law, Thailand became a favoured market. Now Thailand's military rulers will end commercial surrogacy for non-relatives.  Perhaps this will ensure Mexico's womb market will expand.  The market will always provide. Even when it shouldn't. 

Australian advocates are calling for reform so we can have commercial surrogacy here. But even in America where it's inconsistently legal across different states there have been scams and problems. While the famous usually manage to find surrogates on the quiet, Sherri Shepherd from 'The View' attracted attention when she decided she didn't want her in utero child after divorce.  

With eggs and sperm now becoming separate commodities it's getting even more complicated.  Sperm can be ordered from one country, eggs from another and a womb from a third - designer babies are here.  It's a legal and ethical minefield.  And it usually forgets those at the core.

If there was ever a need for a global international regulation and a ethical debate it's now.  Babies are no longer only a joyful blessing of new life, they are an international import and export business. We need international laws.  

I hesitate to use the term 'innocent' but in a market such as this the only innocents are the babes who didn't ask to be born but need loving responsible parents and legal, ethical and loving protection when they arrive.

Regardless of how the DNA lined up.

Sydney Morning Herald