Natalie Akoorie

Natalie Akoorie is a reporter at the NZ Herald based in Hamilton.

NZ parents go offshore for their baby dream

Clampdown on surrogacy in Thailand but Kiwi couples have other, legal options

Thai surrogate mother Pattaramon Chanbua's son Gammy was born with Down syndrome. Photo / AP
Thai surrogate mother Pattaramon Chanbua's son Gammy was born with Down syndrome. Photo / AP

A clampdown on paid surrogacy in Thailand following the abandoning of Down syndrome baby "Gammy" by his Australian parents, will shut the door on desperate Kiwi couples - but there are other options.

Thai authorities said they would now only allow paid surrogacy if the intended parents were medically infertile and if a blood relation was asked to carry the child.

In New Zealand commercial surrogacy is banned and many couples have been turning to India and Thailand where fertility tourism has been booming until the latest debacle shone an international spotlight on the possible pitfalls.

It is estimated about 10 New Zealand couples a year are involved in commercial surrogacy in countries where it is legal, including the United States, Ukraine and one state in Mexico.

Fertility Associates counsellor Sue Saunders said the scandal, in which Western Australians David and Wendy Farnell took Gammy's healthy twin sister home claiming they were told their little boy would die of a congenital heart condition, highlighted the risks of overseas surrogacy.

She knew of a New Zealand couple whose overseas surrogate discovered during the pregnancy that the baby was severely disabled.

"The surrogate decided to terminate when the baby had major disabilities."

It was not the couple's decision but they understood, she said.

Mrs Saunders said it was not unknown for people not to want to take less than perfect babies home.

"When people are trying to woo a surrogate they will agree to anything but when the hard harsh reality of a child with major disabilities hits them it's often too hard."

Angela Ashcroft, who travelled with her husband Paul to India two years ago to use a surrogate for their twin daughters, said Thailand had become a "wild west" since restrictions introduced in India in 2012 ruled out single, gay and unmarried people.

On Thursday it was revealed a Japanese businessman is believed to have fathered nine babies using surrogate mothers in Thailand.

Mrs Ashcroft said there were ways for people to circumvent weak commercial surrogacy laws which could allow a black market to develop.

She held concerns for any Kiwis in the process of having IVF or using egg donors and a surrogate in Thailand because of the crackdown.

Mrs Ashcroft, who set up a website to help Kiwis navigate the process, said this incident could make couples nervous about proceeding with commercial surrogacy.

However inquiries through the India Surrogacy New Zealand website had jumped significantly in the past week and Mrs Ashcroft said they were talking to at least five Kiwi couples considering moving home from Australia and Europe to undertake commercial surrogacy.

She said overseas surrogacy could still be successful if done properly.

"Couples should look at the laws of the land that they're going to and think about what's going to actually happen when the baby's born and not just achieving the pregnancy."

Though Thailand was now under scrutiny amid growing concerns over its international surrogacy industry, Mrs Ashcroft believed clinics there would lobby hard to keep surrogacy open to foreigners.

"It is very big business."

- NZ Herald

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