BANGKOK – A string of recent scandals has lifted a lid on Thailand's largely unregulated commercial surrogacy industry, which has been around for over a decade. Here's a look at the controversies, some of the ethical dilemmas they have raised and the Thai military government's new draft law that is expected to outlaw the business of surrogacy.
THREE SCANDALS: In late July, Thai media reported that an Australian couple who had paid a Thai surrogate to carry twins, returned home with a healthy baby girl but left behind her twin brother who had Down syndrome. The case sparked a national outcry and pleas of help for the surrogate who later said she kept the baby because she feared he would end up in a state institution.
Shortly after, police received a tip that uncovered a bizarre new case: a 24-year-old Japanese man who fathered at least 16 babies via Thai surrogates. Police are still investigating why the man, Mistutoki Shigeta, wanted so many children and are trying to confirm reports that he is the son of a Japanese billionaire.
A third case emerged this week: An Australian man charged with sexually abusing twin girls he fathered several years ago with a Thai surrogate. The man was charged in an Australian court last year for committing indecent acts with a child. Court documents show that the father has also been charged with possessing child pornography materials found in a raid on his home, Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported. He goes on trial in December and is currently free on bail.
THAILAND'S CURRENT RULES ON SURROGACY: Thailand is one of the few countries in Asia where commercial surrogacy is not specifically banned by law. The Medical Council of Thailand has a regulation stating that doctors cannot perform surrogacy for pay or risk losing their license. But that penalty has rarely been enforced and there are no rules covering surrogacy agencies or surrogate mothers, leaving room for commercial surrogacy to occur without oversight. Thailand has become a go-to destination for couples from Australia, Hong Kong and Taiwan and a low-cost alternative to the United States. The cost of a baby by surrogate in Thailand is less than $50,000, compared to about $150,000 in the U.S.
DRAFT LAW ON SURROGACY: In response to the recent global attention, Thailand's military government has vowed to shut down the commercial surrogacy industry. A draft law expected to pass the junta-appointed legislature sometime this year prohibits commercial surrogacy and would penalize offenders with up to 10 years in prison. Agencies, advertisers or recruiters of surrogate mothers will face up to five years in jail and a fine of up to 100,000 baht ($3,000). Experts say they fear the law will not end commercial surrogacy in Thailand and instead push it underground.
AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT RESPONSE: Australia says the crackdown has left dozens of couples in legal limbo and is negotiating with Thailand to ease the transition period before the new law takes effect. Several couples have been prevented from leaving Thailand with their new babies born through surrogacy, due to a clampdown on departure measures that require a court approval that is a lengthy and costly process. Others fear the fate of their unborn children currently being carried by Thai surrogates, many of whom have gone into hiding and stopped going for pre-natal checkups fearing they will be penalized for breaking the new law.