BANGKOK (Reuters) - A Bangkok clinic may have violated Thailand’s regulations on surrogacy when it provided services for a pregnancy that left a Thai mother caring for a baby with Down Syndrome after carrying twins for an Australian couple, a Thai official said on Tuesday.
The case has caused a public outcry in both Thailand and Australia, prompting calls to prohibit commercial surrogacy in the Southeast Asian country to end a lucrative trade.
In Australia, the case has galvanized calls for an overhaul of surrogacy laws to cut the number of couples traveling abroad in search of surrogates.
Authorities inspected the clinic on Tuesday, the official at the Thai Ministry of Public Health told Reuters, requesting anonymity as he had not been authorized to speak publicly. He declined to identify the clinic.
The head of the clinic could face up to a year in jail and a 20,000 Thai baht ($620) fine if found to have violated Thai regulations, the official said.
Commercial surrogacy is against the Medical Council of Thailand’s code of conduct. Surrogacy is permitted if blood relatives of the couple are the surrogates, although exceptions are permitted if no suitable surrogate is available. The clinic was licensed to undertake surrogacies permitted under that regulation, the official said.
Earlier on Tuesday, authorities said they would begin a nationwide inspection of clinics offering surrogacy services to check that they were operating according to medical regulations.
The surrogate mother in the Down case, Pattaramon Janbua, 21, has said she agreed to a fee of 350,000 baht ($10,900) to carry the twins for the Australian couple. They took the girl she delivered back home with them but left the boy, Gammy, behind.
Now seven months old, he is being treated for a lung infection in a hospital east of Bangkok.
A friend of the Australian couple, who have not spoken publicly, told a newspaper in Australia they had found the experience “absolutely devastating”.
The pair, who live in the small town of Bunbury in Western Australia, denied they had requested an abortion when they found out Gammy had Down Syndrome and denied abandoning the baby, the Bunbury Mail reported the friend as saying.
The twins were born prematurely and the couple were told Gammy would not survive, according to the report.
“SAD, COMPLEX AND DIFFICULT”
An official at Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said Gammy’s case was “sad, complex and difficult” and the Australian government was working with Thai authorities to clarify its legal position on surrogacy, which was unclear.
There are no laws governing surrogacy in Thailand. Legislation has been drafted but not yet submitted to parliament.
Pattaramon said her doctors, the surrogacy agency and the baby’s parents had known he was disabled when she was four months pregnant. But she said they did not inform her until the seventh month, when the agency asked her - at the parents’ request - to abort the disabled fetus.
Pattaramon told Reuters Television that, as a Buddhist, she had refused the abortion on religious grounds.
The agency manager who handled the case confirmed the Australian couple had been informed before Pattaramon.
“We told the Australian couple first because we believed that the decision should be made by the biological parents,” the manager, who gave her name as Joy, told Reuters Television.
She declined to give her full name and said she left the agency several months ago. She would not comment on the abortion proposal or other matters.
Pattaramon told a news conference on Tuesday she had never spoken directly to the Australian couple, although she told Reuters later she had met them in Thailand.
“We met three times,” she said in a telephone interview. “We speak different languages so we couldn’t discuss much.”
($1 = 32.2100 Thai Baht)
Additional reporting by Khettiya Jitapong and Jutarat Skulpichetrat in Bangkok and Byron Kaye in Sydney; Writing by Simon Webb and Alan Raybould; Editing by Robert Birsel and Gareth Jones