While this country isn’t really much of an option anymore, many couples are still struggling with the fall out of this issue. I would like to make a place for people to share their process so far and also have a place of aggregated information. I will not use the same format as my other chapters as it is no longer a viable option.
Thailand, a History - It is hard to determine how long surrogacy has been commercialized in Thailand. From reviewing several clinic and agency sites, it seems the bulk of commercialized surrogacy started in 2007. Thailand became an attractive destination for surrogacy for other countries due to various loopholes allowing various surrogacy arraignments to proceed without legal interference. It is also hard to determine how many commercialized surrogacies have occurred in Thailand before the crackdown as these numbers don’t appear to be tracked or published but many clinics boast 500+ surrogacies since their inceptions. The lack of available information on hard numbers or time frames seem to stem from the lack of legality of this practice.
Thailand has been a very attractive venue for Intended Parents seeking surrogates as it did not close it’s doors to LGBT couples or singles. Thailand became the “go-to” location for most couples who found themselves restricted from India with the changes in 2011 by India restricting surrogacy to hetrosexual couples married for more than two years. Additionally, for European couples, Thailand is very attractive due to it’s proximity.
The cost of Thailand was similar to that of India and the access to donors was similar as well (most couples had access primarily to donors from that country). You could expect to pay approx. $25,000 for standard surrogacy and about $5,000 for the use of a donor.
Thailand surrogacy in general was structured very similarly to that of India with the number of embryo transfers, the surrogate and donor selection, housing of surrogates and general medical care and success rates. Where Thailand deviates from India is in a very important place. There were never any laws allowing for surrogacy in Thailand as there are in India. Due to this, the legal process was fairly convoluted and the process of exiting the country and obtaining a birth certificate was very different.
In Thailand, the surrogate mother’s name had to appear on the birth certificate. Your surrogate then had parental rights to the baby until they were formally and legally severed (in some cases this would happen upon the child’s 18th birthday). This could present issues for exit from the country and for any legal action in an Intended Parent’s home area. As a birth certificate is required for a number of things all over the world, the Thai surrogate would remain a legal part of your child’s life for quite awhile and all that entails.
Thailand, a breakdown - Things began to fall apart when it was found there was various unethical or ethically questionable events occurring. It is widely presumed these things occurred in part due to the lack of laws surrounding surrogacy. In India for example, it is illegal to not take any baby created by surrogacy home with you. You will be legally responsible for any child born in India through surrogacy. Because Thailand had no laws allowing surrogacy, it also had no laws relating to surrogacy. This made the area ripe for agencies and intended parents making ethically questionable decisions.
In the case of Thailand, there were several issues which all came out around the same time. I am sure most of you reading this are familiar with each but I have provided links to what I feel to be the best and most informed articles on each instance.
Baby Gammy - http://mashable.com/2014/08/12/baby-gammy-down-syndrome-surrogacy-case/ (I chose this one even though it is less mainstream because I think it gives a great overview).
Japanese Man Mitsutoki fathers 16 children - http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2014/09/02/national/surrogate-offers-clues-into-japanese-with-16-babies/#.VDnEo97gXzI (I chose this though the translation leaves one wanting because of the thorough explanation of the background).
Use of embryonic spinal fluid for use in cosmetics (gag) - http://www.eggdonor.com/blog/2014/08/07/thai-surrogates-harvest-embryonic-spinal-fluid-manufacture-cosmetics/ (I use this link as it is the best discussion on it I can find. I still can’t seem to determine if it was proven or not but it was a consideration swirling during the Thailand shut down).
Okay, so with the above, it becomes easier to understand why the militia which has taken over Thailand’s government would take steps to close those loopholes which allowed situations like this to occur. I will share my thoughts on each though please keep in mind, it is just my opinion.
Regarding the Baby Gammy issue, I think it is pretty hard to decipher exactly what occurred here. There is a great deal of “he said, she said” so it is hard to determine if these people were a horrible couple who rejected their child due to medical issues or if there was confusion and they were forced to take on a situation they had not agreed to. Now, I am a believer that if you create a child and that child makes it to birth, you are responsible for that child even if you didn’t want or expect to be. I hold the agency partially to blame for this because it doesn’t seem they protected the child or the surrogate as they should have. A couple should not have the choice to leave a child behind. I am not surprised they preferred not to take responsibility but it shouldn’t have been a choice they could make. They claim the surrogate told them lies but it is on the agencies shoulders to keep the Intended Parents informed with accurate information as soon as they are aware of it. The agency clearly knew about the Downs diagnosis early on (likely around 14 weeks but for sure by week 22). If their was a choice to be made, the agency needed to get involved to ensure everyone’s rights and responsibilities were being respected and enforced. Another issue with this case is it was later determined the Intended Father had multiple child molestation convictions. While I realize the inherent challenge to international background checks, some vetting of Intended Parents is equally as important as that of the surrogates they choose. The last issue making this situation challenging is Australia’s exclusion of Down’s Syndrome immigrants (http://www.watoday.com.au/wa-news/gammy-saga-australia-already-rejects-down-syndrome-immigrants-20140812-10373y.html). While in this case due to the nationality of the father Baby Gammy should have received citizenship it does cause pause to general views of Downs children. I don’t feel a law that unilaterally discriminates on basis of a medical condition is something we should have in this day and age.
While the issue of the 23 year old Japanese man fathering 16 children doesn’t seem to break any laws, it leaves me with the feeling of “yuck”. The man claims he only wanted a large family and had the resources to affect this. If someone were to attempt to do this in any country with surrogacy laws, I suspect it would be red flagged and the agencies and clinics, in an effort to adhere to ethical practices, would decline his request. Situations like this occur most often when there is no regulation. As much as I would love it if the customer were in fact, “always right”, sometimes it is the service providers job to be the ethical block to inappropriate requests. Just because you legally or financially can, doesn’t mean you should.
The embryonic fluid issue speaks for itself. If it is proven to be true, it will be beyond disgusting and sad. As I hear more on this (whether confirmed or proved false) I will post updates. Until then, no real reason to pontificate about it. Frankly, the idea makes me ill.
Thailand, what do we do now? - Unfortunately, there isn’t great news in this regard. There has been great effort from many to get embryos released. It does seem babies who are already born and couples who are already pregnant will face leniency from the militia currently in power in Thailand. The exit process will likely be more difficult and expensive and take longer but there doesn’t seem to be any indication they will prevent those babies from going home with their families. I have spoken with several attorneys and agencies who are trying to no avail to get their embryos out. I suspect this might let up a bit with increased pressure but I know many couples are just planning to start over. This is often because even if they are able to affect the release of the embryos, it is not clear the quality they will be or if they will get stuck on their way out. Transporting embryos in general is not easy without proper permits and permissions. One of the large stumbling blocks with this is that the doctor who created the embryos must sign several forms to generate the permit. As many surrogate clinics are in potential legal turmoil, it is questionable if those clinics will want official documents presently being signed admitting to surrogacy activity.
If we learn nothing else from Thailand, it should be to not enter into such an important process when there is zero legal framework to support your process. Also, it is important that all players (agencies, clinics, surrogates, donors, and recipient couples) are respectful of the process and act in a way that doesn’t ruin it for everyone else. The actions of few can poison it for the rest.
As the story unfolds, I will post updates. Please feel free to post comments, updates, new stories or questions. I will do my best to seek out answers with my resources.
Photo credit: Sam Ruaat / Foter / CC BY-SA