Baby Gammy forces us to face some ugly truths about surrogacy

Screen shot 2014-08-02 at 8.28.24 PMGammy is six-months old, and one of the twins born to Thai surrogate mother Pattaramon Chanbua. The 21 year-old mother of two was struggling to pay debts last year when she was offered the equivalent of $11,700 to be a surrogate for a Western Australian couple. When the intended parents learned that one of the twins she was carrying had Down syndrome they rejected him.

Ms Pattaramon has never met Gammy’s Australian parents, and their identities remain unknown. After the birth of the twins, the surrogacy agents removed the girl baby leaving Gammy behind with his Thai surrogate who has now issued a warning to other Thai women not to get into the business of surrogacy. “Don’t just think only for money … if something goes wrong no one will help us and the baby will be abandoned from society, then we have to take responsibility for that.”

Australia’s Prime Minister,Tony Abbott described the case as an “incredibly sad story”. He said: “I guess it illustrates some of the pitfalls involved in this particular [surrogacy] business.” Indeed it does, Prime Minister! The story has shocked the public who have responded so generously donating much-needed funds for the medical treatment of the child who has a congenital heart condition.

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Kajsa Ekis Ekman is no stranger to the pitfalls involved in the surrogacy industry. Ekman is the author of Being and Being Bought: Prostitution, Surrogacy and the Split Self in which she provides an analysis of prostitution and surrogacy that shatters the great wall of lies about these two institutions. The growing surrogacy industry requires that the ‘happy breeder’ sees herself as ‘a generous and self-sacrificing Madonna figure’, that parting with the child is unproblematic, and that the reward comes when the relinquishing surrogate sees the ‘smiles on the intended parents’ faces.

The idea that giving up the child who lived, grew, and moved inside you for nine months is easy, is untrue and strongly repudiated by Pattaramon Chanbua: “I chose to have him, not to hurt him. I love him. He was in my tummy for nine months, it’s like my child. I treat him like my other children, never think you are not my child and I don’t care for you, never.”

Ekman reminds us of the woman who gave surrogacy a face in the USA. In 1980 Elizabeth Kane became the USA’s first legal surrogate who declared she wasn’t doing it for the money but to help a childless couple. Kane was the surrogacy agency’s ‘perfect poster woman’ who said that she was not at all troubled by giving up the child. ” The joy I had received from seeing him in their arms would last a lifetime,” she said. However after the excitement of the pregnancy and the birth came the waning attention, and Kane became depressed. Kane explained her experience as a ‘terrible mistake’: “I now believe that surrogate motherhood is nothing more than the transference of pain from one woman to another. One woman is in anguish because she cannot become a mother, and another woman may suffer for the rest of her life because she cannot know the child she bore for someone else.” Kane later founded the National Coalition Against Surrogacy.

Pattaramon Chanbua has come to know and love the child she bore for the unknown western couple and appears to have family support to help her care for the baby. But I wonder how the Western Australian couple are coping with their decision to reject the child who wasn’t perfect. I’m sure they will be rather devastated in due time. Surrogacy has few winners.

Ekis Ekman will be in Australia later this month for the Festival of Dangerous Ideas at the Sydney Opera House where she will present Surrogacy is Child Trafficking. In India alone, this industry is valued at over US$450 million per year and whereas the sex industry is increasingly targeted by legislators as exploitation, the surrogacy industry retains a rosy image. I am confident that Ekman will do her best to stimulate discussion of this industry that is so emotionally charged and about which it’s difficult to critique in a society which increasingly believes that everyone has a ‘right’ to a child and must have their own.

Melburnians will have a chance to catch up with Kajsa Ekis Ekman when she Screen shot 2014-08-02 at 8.21.36 PMlectures at RMIT on September 3. Being and Being Bought is published by Spinifex Press.

 

 

 

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