Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Surrogacy in Southeast Asia gets complicated

This Week in Asia has the story:
Clampdowns on surrogacy in Cambodia, Thailand and India have led to the emergence of complex, cross-border operations that put women, children and would-be parents at greater risk than before

"Since surrogacy brokers began recruiting women from a sleepy community in Cambodia’s Takeo province last year, they seem to have knocked on every door except for that of village chief Ouk Savouen. By his estimates, at least a dozen women in the village, an hour’s drive from Phnom Penh, have delivered babies for foreign couples.

"When Savouen reported the matter to police in 2016 there was little they could do as at that time the industry was operating in a legal grey area. A lack of government regulation against the practice had made Cambodia popular with foreign couples (“intended parents”) seeking surrogate mothers – and this popularity had only grown following decisions to ban the practice in India, Nepal and neighbouring Thailand.

"So the recruiters kept coming. In Savouen’s village – where many families owe informal debts and gambling is popular, even among women – offers from brokers seeking surrogates were particularly tempting. A standard payment for a pregnancy would be in the region of US$10,000, more than five times the annual wage for a garment worker and enough to build a new home or pay off a loan.

"In October, there was what Savouen viewed as a breakthrough: the health ministry followed other countries in the region by deciding to ban foreigners from seeking commercial surrogacy within its borders.

"That decision may have been welcomed by people like Savouen, but it’s had a host of unintended, and unpleasant consequences, not least among them the chaos it has caused for surrogates and intended parents whose embryos were implanted before the decision was made. The ensuing chaos forced Phnom Penh in recent weeks to announce an “exit strategy” for such children, though dozens of intended parents are still reporting problems in taking custody of their newborns.

"More worryingly, say campaigners, is that the decision, alongside other countries’ clampdowns on surrogacy, has led to the emergence of a new, unregulated cross-border industry that exists outside any national jurisdiction and puts women, children and parents at greater risk than before.

"It is now not uncommon for a couple in one country to pay a surrogate in a second, via an agency in a third, for a child that will be born in a fourth, all in an effort to comply with the letter of the law in the various jurisdictions. And while such arrangements help agencies skirt the legal issues, critics say they make it easier for one side or another to cheat on payment issues and, in the worst case scenarios, give rise to fears over human-trafficking.
"Since the ban in Cambodia, intended parents are increasingly being directed to Laos. “Laos is now in the position Cambodia was in early 2016,” said US organisation Sensible Surrogacy. “There is no law, so surrogacy is permitted only because the government has not stepped in to regulate the practice yet.”

"Several companies mention operations in Laos on their websites, including Thailand-based New Genetics Global, which left Cambodia immediately after the ban, and Laos Fertility, which is based in the US. Talent IVF Asia is operating in Vientiane with Laotian surrogates, according to Families through Surrogacy.

"A representative for Laos Fertility said its clinic had opened in Vientiane after the clampdown in Thailand and provided a price list, with hospital service fees listed in Thai baht. Its website states that surrogate mothers remain with their families during the pregnancy.

"Embryos are implanted in surrogate mothers in Vientiane while the women often receive prenatal, delivery, and postnatal care in another country, such as Thailand.
"The shift towards cross-border trade has presented other issues. In April, a Thai man was arrested at the Laos border carrying semen in a nitrogen tank bound for a clinic in Vientiane. New Genetics Global recommends that intended parents travel to Laos to donate sperm, Lam said.
"Experts warn women, children and parents remain at risk. “Wherever surrogacy is unregulated, there are reports that surrogates are vulnerable and don’t always get the money promised,” said Patricia Fronek, a professor at Griffith University in Australia who specialises in surrogacy and adoption. She added that intended parents were often asked for more money than originally agreed. Fronek also said there was “a legal question about trafficking when women are transported across borders”.

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