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Baby Gammy: The ethics and economics of surrogacy

Modern medicine allows two people to create life via a third party, but not without some gray areas along the way

At seven months, Gammy appears to be a typical happy baby — even as controversy continues to swirl around him.

Over the weekend, his surrogate mother sat with him in a hospital about 50 miles east of Bangkok, where he is being treated for a congenital heart condition and a lung infection.

His story began last year when Pattaramon Chanbua said she was offered $15,000 in exchange for acting as a surrogate for an Australian couple.

In December, Chanbua gave birth to twins. The parents took the female twin but abandoned Gammy, who was born with Down's syndrome.

Chanbua said she was kept in the dark about the baby’s condition during her pregnancy.

"Only the local surrogacy agency, doctors and his parents knew that he had Down's syndrome from the fourth month," Chanbua said.

The Australian couple has not been publicly identified. They have claimed they were unaware that their surrogate gave birth to a second child.

Chanbua is 21 years old and already has two children of her own. She had a limited income when she agreed to be a surrogate.

Her story has inspired an outpouring of support. The Australian charity Hands Across the Water started a Go Fund Me page for Gammy, which has raised more than $200,000 in support over the course of two weeks.

Chanbua has considered a lawsuit against gammy’s biological parents.
Nicolas Asfouri/AFP/Getty

“During the seventh month of pregnancy, the agency called me and told me that the parents wanted me to terminate the child because he had Down syndrome. I told them it’s already seven months. I’m not going to. I can’t do it.”
— Pattaramon Chanbua, surrogate mother

The controversy has gripped politicians as well. Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott expressed his regret over the case on Saturday. 

"I guess it illustrates some of the pitfalls involved in this particular business," Abbott said.

"It's a very, very sad story and I hate to think that, you know, a child could be abandoned like that."

Chanbua has considered a lawsuit against Gammy's biological parents.

Commercial surrogacy, where money is exchanged beyond medical expenses, is forbidden in Australia. So, many couples seek the services of Thai or Indian women.

Complications around surrogacy also exist in the United States. Would-be parents have to navigate a patchwork of laws that differ from state to state. Washington D.C. bans surrogacy entirely. California provides a regulatory structure to support the process.

However, the expense still sends many parents overseas.

What is the current law regarding surrogacy?

What can be done to avoid possible exploitation that can occur within the surrogacy framework?

We consulted a panel of experts for the Inside Story.

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