Sunday, 10 August 2014

Gammy, surrogacy and the elephant in the room


The world has been following keenly the case of baby Gammy, the surrogate baby born in Thailand and abandoned by his biological parents. Initially, the world was shocked that Gammy was abandoned yet his twin sister was taken home to Australia. Then the news broke that maybe they didn't abandon him and the surrogate mother wouldn’t give him up. Then there was talk of the surrogate mother switching hospitals which made the surrogacy contract void. 

News followed that she might face legal charges, then she was considering charges against the biological parents…. The whole sad affair is a mess. The blaringly obvious thing is that commercial surrogacy causes the mess. 

One positive to come out of Gammy’s case is that it sparked a much needed discussion about the pitfalls of commercial surrogacy. And the pitfalls are numerous.

For starters, commercial surrogacy treats children as commodities; commodities that can be bought for the right price. How many parents will say to their child “You cost us a premium darling, but it was worth it. We got the child we always wanted”?  In a world that promotes self-worth and self-value, it seems highly selfish to devalue a child in order to satisfy your own desires.
Treating children as commodities opens the door to “surrogacy farms”, such as the South East Asian trafficking operation recently exposed, where infants are born to a surrogate mother and then taken overseas to be either sold for the right price or forced into the sex slave industry.
Secondly, commercial surrogacy exploits the poor and vulnerable. At the right price, you can have your baby carried by a woman who has next to nothing else and potentially no family or loved ones, then you’ll happily take the baby she has formed a natural, motherly bond with over the previous nine months. But hey, you paid her so what the hell.
Thirdly, many unwanted fertilised embryos that form the start of life are distributed on the black market for another bidder to purchase, or simply destroyed.
Fourthly, the laws around commercial surrogacy seem problematic. The fact that Gammy’s surrogate mother had the baby in a hospital that differed to the one agreed in the surrogancy arrangement allegedly meant that Gammy’s biological parents no longer had a legal right to their biological child.
Lastly, there is no screening for previous criminal history of the parents. Like Gammy’s father, convicted child abusers who have spent time in jail have an easy path to young children. This is despite rigorous screening of parents undergoing IVF and adoption.
The whole ideology of commercial surrogacy seems backward to me. People seeking a surrogate mother will tell you it is their “right” to have a child. Yet the corresponding right of a child to its biological parents is thrown on out the window if the baby has an abnormality like Down Syndrome. As a friend said to me the other day, “people intentionally make a baby then ‘delete’ the mistake”.
Aside from the many problems with surrogacy, the case of baby Gammy shines the spotlight fairly and squarely on the elephant in the room. There has been widespread public outrage about the abandonment of baby Gammy and rightly so. However we continue to abandon thousands of the very same Down Syndrome babies, hassle free, not a word of protest, through abortion simply because they have, as Gammy’s father said, “a handicap”.
People will advise you not to judge someone who has abandoned a Down Syndrome baby through abortion, yet the world is judging Gammy's parents for their abandonment of him. The logic seems flawed to me.
What many people don’t realise is the joy Down Syndrome children bring to everyone they are involved with.
I was at a friend’s house a few weeks ago for the first time and had not met her family. Before I had taken three steps inside the house, my friend’s 13 year old sister who has Down Syndrome came running up to me and bear-hugged me before stepping back and introducing herself. Similarly, when I was leaving the house, she came back to me and bear-hugged me goodbye. They are two moments I will not forget in a hurry. The raw joy and love shown by my friend’s sister made me think, if my wife and I ever received a child with Down Syndrome, I’d be happy.
Let’s hope Gammy’s case leads to continued public discussion on the inhumane issues with commercial surrogacy. Kids aren’t commodities and the vulnerable shouldn’t be exploited simply because someone wants a child they can’t naturally create.
All the best,

*Photo courtesy of the Sydney Morning Herald article on 5 August 2014

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