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Thailand bans surrogacy for foreigners after Baby Gammy scandal

An Australian couple were accused of abandoning the baby boy with Down syndrome while taking his twin sister back with them.

Image: Apichart Weerawong/PA

THAILAND HAS PASSED a law banning foreign couples from using Thai women as surrogates after a series of high-profile scandals tainting the image of the hitherto unregulated industry.

It is hoped this will end what has become known as ‘rent a womb’ tourism in the country.

The legislation was unanimously approved by Thailand’s junta-picked parliament today in a bill spurred by the case of an Australian couple accused of abandoning a baby with Down syndrome while taking his twin sister carried by a Thai surrogate.

“Thailand and its women’s uteruses will no longer be a hub” for surrogacy, said National Legislative Assembly member Wallop Tungkananurak.

Under the new law, likely to be enforced by June, only Thai couples or those where at least one partner comes from Thailand will be eligible to use surrogates in the kingdom.

People seeking surrogacy in Thailand will have to prove that they are unable to bear children and have no relatives to act as surrogates on their behalf.

Anyone found breaching the law could face up to ten years in jail, said Wallop.

Left in limbo

Official figures on surrogacy in Thailand are limited as most couples do not register but the majority of service users are foreign, according to the Thai medical council, a regulatory body, and the law may leave scores in limbo.

Sam Everingham, global director of Families Through Surrogacy, said the legislation would “make it a lot harder” for many prospective parents but welcomed a move to clear up a murky legal area.

“We welcome clarification the law has brought for many… We don’t want parents engaging in a country where compensated surrogacy is not welcome,” said the Sydney-based Everingham.

According to an estimate by the surrogacy organisation there are around 300 Thai surrogates currently carrying babies for foreigners.

Everingham said that while his understanding was that existing pregnancies “will be allowed to complete”, the new law could put some couples in a dilemma.

“There are at least 80 couples from European countries” being forced to find ways around the ban including by having one member of the couple marry the surrogate, he said.

Baby Gammy

Commercial surrogacy is officially banned by the Medical Council of Thailandand authorities moved to close several IVF clinics in the weeks after the scandal over the Australian couple last August.

Source: Apichart Weerawong/PA

The pair denied deliberately leaving the boy, called Gammy, with the Thai surrogate mother, who was paid around $15,000 to carry the twins.

Gammy’s biological father, David Farnell, a convicted sex offender, is under investigation by Australian authorities regarding the wellbeing and safety of the Gammy’s twin, Pipah.

Some experts in Thailand think the legislation does not go far enough.

“I am not happy with this law… Only foreigners are targeted, Thai couples are not restricted,” Sappasit Kumprabhan, a children’s rights activist who helped draft the bill, told AFP.

But Thai medical council president Somsak Lolekha said he supports the legislation as a means to widen the net to prosecute those who break the law while retaining the service for Thais.

“Life has changed, people marry late so it is more difficult for them to have babies and surrogacy can help,” he said.

- © AFP 2015.

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