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Laura Keynes: Return to sender. The surrogate babies dumped because they are less than perfect


An Australian couple have left their baby in Thailand after discovering he has Down Syndrome.

Baby Gammy was created through surrogacy and born to an impoverished 21-year-old Thai woman in Bangkok. Ms Janbua reportedly accepted around $12,000 to be a surrogate for the couple, but when she gave birth to twins – a boy and a girl – the couple only took the girl back to Australia.

Commercial surrogacy is banned in Australia, but infertile couples simply go to countries with fewer regulations, such as Thailand (which has since announced new laws). This Australian couple discovered months into Ms Janbua’s pregnancy that one twin had Down Syndrome and the other did not. They asked Ms Janbua to abort but she refused. They then refused to take Baby Gammy, who is now being cared for by Ms Janbua.

Baby Gammy’s case only came to light after it was reported by a Thai newspaper, prompting a campaign to raise money for his medical care.

The case has also prompted outrage and highlighted the problem with surrogacy: children are not consumer goods, to be ordered up at will and returned to sender if the goods are ‘faulty’.

It reminded me of reality TV show ‘The Parent Makers’ about gay couple Barry and Tony Drewitt-Barlow, who run The British Surrogacy Centre and are themselves surrogate parents. One episode shows Barry shout at his son Orlando because he is not the “gorgeous designer child with straight hair” that he “paid for”. Barry might have been joking (it’s hard to tell) but the defensive look of hurt on the child’s face is there for all to see.

Many who support the child-acquisition industry would argue that the Australian couple should have clarified contractual details in advance or else sought a surrogate who’d agree to abortion on demand if the resulting child were ‘imperfect’. Many would say that this is not a problem with surrogacy per se but simply with unregulated surrogacy, and the solution is therefore tighter regulations.

Regulated or not, the practice of surrogacy encourages intended parents (as those seeking surrogates are known in the industry) to view children as a ‘right’, acquired at will. Before the advent of IVF and surrogacy, children were understood to be a gift. Now children like Baby Gammy and his sister, and women like Ms Janbua, are goods to be traded and exploited: human traffic if you will.

Perhaps the saddest thing of all about Baby Gammy’s case is the thought of all the other babies like him who are ‘returned to sender’, aborted in utero because they’re not ‘perfect’ or because their care would impose a ‘burden’. It’s estimated that in the UK about 92 per cent of babies with a diagnosis of Down Syndrome are aborted in utero. Whether it’s refusing to take a baby born with Down Syndrome home from the hospital, or refusing to allow that baby to be born in the first place, the action is the same: ‘return to sender’.

Anyone appalled at the behaviour of this Australian couple might also question UK attitudes, where current law permits an abortion to take place up to birth if tests indicate that the child may be disabled when born. If he’d had the misfortune to be conceived in the UK rather than Thailand, Baby Gammy’s sweet face would never have seen the light of day.

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Laura Keynes
Laura Keynes
Dr Keynes is a Cambridge-based academic, writer and critic with two very young children. She writes for Standpoint magazine, the Catholic Herald and The Tablet. Find her on twitter @LMKeynes.

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