The row surrounding baby Gammy


In December 2011, Bollywood actor Aamir Khan and wife Kiran Rao became parents to a baby born to a surrogate mother. Almost everyone was taken by a surprise when they made an announcement of their son, Azad’s birth on December 5. Due to medical complications, the couple were “advised to have a baby through… surrogacy,” they said in a statement released to the press. Last year another Bollywood bigwig Shah Rukh Khan famously had his third child with his wife Gauri by a surrogate mother.  This time the press was not so kind. Writing in the Express Tribune, academic Anuradha Sharma said, “The Khans have shown how it is more important to have your own child, even if you already have children, than be bothered about ‘non-questions’ on ethics. I wonder what they would have missed out on if they had adopted children instead. Indian children lead some of the worst lives on this planet. Bollywood endorsement of adoption could have changed a culture fixated on bloodlines.”
However, surrogacy a word that has been used behind closed doors opened the door for many others. The surrogacy market in India since has grown. According to a report in India Today magazine, some clinics have tie-ups with online portals that advertise commercial surrogacy and scout for parents across the globe. “Then, there are agencies which make the whole process a smoother one by organising everything under one roof. This is true even of Maharashtra and Gujarat which some have described as global surrogacy hubs. Hospitals and clinics in Mumbai freely advertise that anyone can have a child through surrogacy.
“Foreigners are attracted to India because it is cheaper than in the West to have a surrogate child. The ‘package’ for surrogacy can vary between Rs 8,00,000 (14, 545 AUD) to Rs 15,00,000 (27, 272 AUD), including the cost of doctors, legal fees, antenatal care, surrogate compensation, egg donor, drugs and consumables, and IVF costs. The opposition to surrogacy has been strong and King Khan’s case proved this,” the report said.
Surrogacy, therefore, is not a new idea. The booming offshore baby market has become big business with Thailand as another popular surrogacy centre. With commercial surrogacy outlawed in Australia more than 300 babies were produced for Australian couples at overseas clinics during 2011-12, according to
But international surrogacy laws have come to the spotlight with the recent case of Gammy, a baby with Down’s syndrome and a life-threatening lung infection, allegedly abandoned by its Australian parents in Thailand after being born to a surrogate mother. The baby boy is currently in hospital and his surrogate mother has told the media that his Australian parents abandoned him when they took his twin sister home, but left him behind. Pattaramon Chanbua, who gave birth to the boy, said Gammy’s Australian biological parents were aware of his existence and asked her to abort the child after he was diagnosed with Down’s syndrome in the womb. But said she could not do that, because of Thai culture and her religious beliefs.
Meanwhile an online campaign to raise funds for the baby has raised more than $200,000, but there is some confusion as to who’s behind that campaign. Australian broadcaster ABC’s 7.30 programme said it had spoken to the couple twice in their home and that they claimed never to have seen Gammy. They reportedly said, “We saw a few people at the hospital. We didn’t know who the surrogate was. It was very confusing. There was a language barrier.”
With claims and counter claims running back and forth, it is unclear if Chanbua had seen the biological parents before or after Gammy’s birth though she insisted they knew of his existence.
Chanbua, who lives with her six-year-old son and three-year-old daughter, said she would raise Gammy as if the boy was her own. “I love him,” she said. There were also reports that she was backed by an Australian lawyer to sue biological parents.
Reporting on the incident, ABC correspondent Samantha Hawley said she discovered “a largely unregulated industry. I’ve discovered that there’s been a 500 per cent increase in the number of Australians that are coming here to undertake IVF or use surrogates in the last year, so a huge increase. Now, that’s partly due to the fact that there was a crack-down on the industry in India.”
Rules on surrogacy vary from country to country, which can lead to pitfalls and complications for would-be parents. The practice is banned in many countries including Germany, Italy, France and Sweden. In other countries, such as the UK and Australia, the laws are more complex, according to The Guardian.
In Australia, It is illegal to pay a surrogate mother. However in some states such as Western Australia, it is legal to pay a surrogate living overseas. An Australian woman can act as a surrogate for free but has the right to keep the child rather than hand it over to the biological parents.
India is a popular destination for parents looking for a surrogate mother as commercial surrogacy is legal and the costs are significantly lower than in developed nations. Since last year would-be parents must now travel to India on a surrogacy visa, which are only available to heterosexual married couples living in a country which accepts cross-border surrogacy. India has hundreds of IVF clinics but only about fifteen which are “set up to cope well with the needs of foreigners engaging in surrogacy”, according to Families Through Surrogacy. Rising demand from abroad for Indian surrogate mothers has turned “surrogacy tourism” there into a billion dollar industry, reports The Guardian.
Reflecting on the latest issue, Sam Everingham of Surrogacy Australia told ABC that Australia need to overhaul its surrogacy services so that another child did not face the plight that Gammy now faces. “We do want to see the Australian government putting money into surrogacy education and support for families who are at the moment going overseas with the government really just turning their back on them.”
The Gammy case may be an uncommon one but it just goes to show that it takes a case like this to highlight that while big money are changing hands in the business of surrogacy, the industry remains complex and largely unregulated.