Print Version    Email to Friend
Surrogacy has something to offend everyone

HONG KONG (SE): In February 2015, Thailand passed a law banning the practice of foreign people paying Thai women to act as a surrogate mother.

“This law aims to stop Thai women’s wombs becoming the world’s wombs,” Reuters quoted Wanlop Tankananurak, a member of the National Legislative Assembly, as saying at the time.

The law was prompted by a Thai national, Pattarmon Chanbuas, who acted as a contract gestational mother for an Australian couple, David and Wendy Farnell.

Chanbuas gave birth to twins at the Samitivej Hospital in Bangkok on 6 August 2014, but the couple claimed that twins were not part of the deal and in the long run, while they took the healthy baby girl back to Australia, they refused to take the boy, who was born with Down’s Syndrome and was also suffering from other conditions.

David Farnell was quoted at the time as saying, “It was late into the pregnancy that we learned the boy had Down’s. They sent us the reports, but they didn’t do the checks early enough. If it would have been safe for that embryo to be terminated, we probably would have terminated it, because he has a handicap and this is a sad thing. And it would be difficult—not impossible, but difficult.”

It was also claimed that the Farnells wanted a refund from the surrogacy agency in Bangkok that they had commissioned to recruit a gestational mother.

While the process seems simple enough, there are a wide variety of issues at stake and both the medical process and the legal environment present new complexities that have no precedent.

Jennifer Roback Morse, a former project officer for the National Organisation for Marriage in the United States of America, points to some of the misunderstandings surrounding the issue.

In an article titled, Surrogacy has something to offend everyone, Morse says pro-life people think, “Gosh, surrogacy makes babies, how can that be bad?”

Feminists think, “Gosh, surrogacy allows people to meet their reproductive goals, how can that be bad?”

But as Farnell demonstrated, abortion can become a big issue and Morse points out that often a doctor will implant multiple eggs hoping some of them will survive and the surrogate is often contractually obliged to make a selective reduction and abort a few of the babies.

Also as demonstrated by the Farnell case, Morse says that the contracts surrounding surrogacy are not straightforward, as the clients, or commissioning parent(s) are really ordering a designer baby, so any pregnancy that reveals that all the specifications are not being met can result in required abortion as well.

Morse argues strongly that there are also pro-woman reasons to oppose surrogacy, as the gestational mother’s bond with the baby is treated as important during pregnancy, but totally irrelevant after birth.

In other words, she is treated as a womb for rent, as her person is both legally and emotionally set aside after the money has changed hands.

Morse points out that this is different from offering a child for adoption, as the mother still maintains the right to change her mind once her baby is in her arms, but the gestational mother, even though she may have become deeply attached to the child, as mothers do during pregnancy, has no rights at all.

She adds that it is a statistical fact that conception through in-vitro fertilisation often results in premature birth, low birth weight, cerebral palsy and other problems.

But the biggest risk of all she believes is a legal one, as the commissioning parents have been known to abandon a child that does not live up to their contractual specifications.

It is also an exploitative process, as it is mostly the poor who are demeaning their bodies to satisfy a whim of the wealthy and while baby-making should be about love, it is reduced to a cheque book transaction that remains legal mostly only in countries that are poor.

On top of that, Morse finds the fact that law can end up trumping medicine in the process and since both sciences are oblivious to the fundamental emotion attached to bringing a life into the world the whole process is objectionable.

The process can involve up to five people; egg donor, sperm donor, gestational carrier and one or more commissioning parents—so it is up to the law to choose who the ultimate parents are, although Canberra has recognised David Farnell as the biological father of Chanbuas’ child by granting the abandoned girl in Thailand Australian citizenship.

In December 2013, an 18-year-old Hong Kong jewellery design student, Cheung Ka-wun, was recognised in the United Nations Bio-Ethics and Human Rights Art Competition at a function at the Inno Centre in Kowloon for a painting addressing the topic of surrogacy.

Cheung told the Sunday Examiner, “I have painted a young couple who could not have a baby receiving a surrogate child. They are not ecstatic, as they have not really taken part in the creation of a life. The man is distracted by the contract he has signed with the surrogate mother. It is as much about money as it is about new life.”

She continued, “I have also drawn the womb of the surrogate mother into the painting. There is money in the womb. I find something cynical in all this, as it seems to be about contracts more than receiving life.”

Cheung pointed out, “I also wanted to address the use of science to stroke egos. I find something cynical in creating designer babies, as they are a reflection of parental egos rather than gifting a new life with freedom and a unique identity.”

Morse concludes that with all the disadvantages of surrogacy, we should look for other solutions to the problems it is supposed to solve.

“We need natural solutions… We need more love between men and women to solve the socially-caused infertility of being unable to find a suitable co-parent of the opposite sex,” she says.

However, while the Thai law may solve a few cross-border problems, it has not addressed the difficulties for locals, as it does not ban its own citizens from availing of the services of a woman to act as a gestational surrogate mother, provided she is over 25-years-of-age.

Morse concludes, “Whether you are a progressive or conservative, feminist or pro-life, straight or gay, surrogacy is not the answer.”

More from this section