There’s a story that has been all over the media the last few days involving an Australian couple who used a Thai surrogate. I’m sure you can find a dozen different versions of the story, but I’ll start with this one from the Washington Post. One of the reasons I’ll use this one is that it makes it clear that a lot of the details are unknown and/or unclear.
That said, here’s the bare-bones account. (I’m trying to stay to the facts we know, but I think I have to make some assumptions, too. I’ll try to identify them.). An unnamed (and presumably heterosexual) Australian couple went to Thailand to hire a surrogate. (While it doesn’t say this, I think we can assume that part of the reason they went to Thailand is that compensated surrogacy is prohibited in Australia.)
Pattaramon Chanbua is a 21-year-old Thai woman. She is food vendor and earns $622 per month. A surrogacy agency offered to pay her somewhere between $9300 and $16,000 to serve as a surrogate. She agreed to do so.
Chanbua became pregnant with twins for the Australian couple. (I’d guess via IVF using embryos from the couple’s own genetic material, but I don’t know that.). At some point during the pregnancy it became clear that there were problems. The surrogacy agency (or in some accounts the Australian couple) suggested abortion. Chanbua refused.
She gave birth to twins–a boy named Gammy who has Down Syndrome and some heart issues and a girl who was apparently normal. The Australian took the girl to Australia and did not take the boy. (That might have been their idea but it is also possible that they didn’t even know of the existence of the boy.). The boy remains with Canbua who is hardly in a position to care for a child with disabilities.
This story has generated lots of fallout. I would note two pieces: First, there is now a fund with over $200,000 in it that is dedicated to caring for Gammy. That’s a lot of money by almost any standards but probably particularly a lot for an impoverished Thai food vendor. (I don’t believe that Chanbua set up the fund, by the way, but it is for the care of her child.)
Second, the Australian government is under pressure to do something. There are several possible courses of action–not mutually exclusive. Some expect Australia might try to ban use of overseas surrogacy. (I have to wonder if such a ban could be legal and, even if legal, effective. Can a country prohibit its citizens from travelling to receive medical care?). At the same time Australia is apparently looking into the possibility that Gammy is an Australian citizen and therefore entitled to state-sponsored medical care. (Oh, those lucky people in single-payer land.).
Now what to think/say/do about all this? I find it hard not to respond viscerally to the behavior of the Australian couple. That’s actually not fair–what if the agency never told them about the boy?– but still, I think I should say it because it is right there in the front of my brain.
The lack of clarity about the facts can be really problematic. For instance, judgment about the morality of the Australian couples’ conduct depends (for me, anyway) on the specific facts.
But there are other things to think about where the details don’t matter so much. Even if the Australian couple didn’t drop by the hospital to pick up one twin, leaving the other behind, I think they could have done this. And, it seems to me, no system of law should sanction that behavior.
Indeed, even without certainty about the details it seems to me this case exemplifies some of the problems of the global surrogacy trade. Because Australia won’t allow paid surrogacy people go to countries that do allow it. And those countries–at least some of them–lack basic protections for surrogates and the children conceived via surrogacy.
I’m actually surprised that there is no discussion (that I’ve seen, anyway) of consequences for the Australian couple. And (though I don’t like to think of myself as vengeful) this is a case where perhaps there should be consequences. Maybe Canbua wants to raise Gammy and, under the circumstances, maybe she should be allowed to so. But I think the Australian couple should be held responsible for the costs of her doing so. It’s too crude to say that they commissioned this child and therefore must bear the costs, but that is the general idea.
I’m also haunted here by imagining the life of the girl who was taken back to Australia. Will she ever know her story? Will she know she has a twin brother? And if she does, how will she ever be able to accept her parents decision to leave him behind? (Even if they didn’t know of his existence at the time they left Thailand, they surely do know.).
Much to consider.