New rules come in wake of two high-profile scandals
Thai surrogate mother Pattaramon Chanbua, left, with her baby Gammy, at Samitivej Hospital in Bangkok August 4, 2014. (Photo by Nicolas Asfouri/AFP)
A year after the Baby Gammy scandal shone a light on Thailand’s multimillion-dollar baby factory business, the country’s military junta has finally banned surrogacy for foreigners.
The Protection of Children Born from Assisted Reproductive Technologies Act was published in Thailand's Royal Gazette on May 1 and its enforcement announced on July 29 by Public Health and Social Development and Human Security Ministry officials. Under the new act, surrogacy can only take place with the involvement of a Thai family member, and not for commercial purposes.
A number of Thai government administrations over the past decade have come close to passing similar laws, but this is the first one that has made it through. The legislation’s backers in the Thai military junta, which seized power on May 22 last year, were responsible for passing it in their rubber-stamp National Legislative Assembly.
The final impetus was Baby Gammy. Born with Down syndrome to surrogate mother Pattaramon “Goy” Chanbua for Australian couple David and Wendy Farnell, Gammy was abandoned in Thailand while his healthy twin sister was taken back to Australia.
Media later reported that Farnell had been jailed for child sex offenses in the 1990s. A second surrogacy controversy followed when a Japanese man was found to have fathered at least 14 children with surrogate mothers.
Ministry officials said the new Thai law is intended to help married, childless couples have their own children using reproductive technologies and prevent the abuse of such technologies.
A 15-member committee, chaired by the Public Health Ministry’s permanent secretary along with the president of the Medical Council of Thailand as vice chairman, will administer the legislation.
The committee will be responsible for authorizing surrogacy on a case-by-case basis and controlling the industry. Punishments under the new legislation — a jail term of up to one year or a fine of up to 20,000 baht (US$570) — apply to doctors who fail to comply with surrogacy standards.
Unregistered surrogates can face up to 10 years in jail and a 200,000-baht fine (US$5,700).
A significant change in the law gives biological parents of a child born via surrogacy immediate parental rights in line with family and inheritance laws, Public Health Minister Rajata Rajatanavin said. Under existing laws, the surrogate mother is deemed the parent until she hands over rights.
People involved in the Thai surrogacy sector said the country had proved very popular with gay couples as well as Chinese and Indians who use genetic testing of the fetus to choose the sex of their child — a practice outlawed in many countries.
With the new legislation, however, neighboring Cambodia may be set to pick up a large slice of the business. But there are questions over the legality of the practice in that country.
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