A Change of Guard

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Thursday, 23 June 2016

As surrogacy industry expands, legal and ethical issues mulled

An employee uses an electronic microscope during the process of human egg fertilisation in a laboratory for In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) in 2015. Bloomberg
An employee uses an electronic microscope during the process of human egg fertilisation in a laboratory for In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) in 2015. Bloomberg

As surrogacy industry expands, legal and ethical issues mulled
Thu, 23 June 2016 ppp
Bun Sengkong and Will Jackson

Despite a veil of secrecy, details are beginning to emerge about Cambodia’s burgeoning commercial surrogacy industry.

In an article on the website Gays With Kids, a British-Polish couple has revealed how they became parents of one of the first surrogate babies born in Cambodia earlier this year.

Meanwhile, a Cambodian woman paid to bear twins for a foreign couple has provided some insight into the deals offered to surrogate mothers.

Despite being labelled “human trafficking” by the Ministry of Interior, indications are that commercial surrogacy has boomed in the Kingdom after the practice was made illegal or restricted for foreigners in India, Nepal and Thailand last year.

However, surrogacy agencies, in vitro fertilisation (IVF) clinics and those seeking surrogate babies (known as “intended parents”) refuse to speak openly about the practice for fear of a backlash from the public, which could force a crackdown from the government.

According to the Gays With Kids website, the couple, identified only as Greg from the UK and Lukasz from Poland, decided to try surrogacy in Thailand last year.

However, a week after an IVF procedure to fertilise donated eggs, the military government there made surrogacy for foreigners illegal, so the couple had the embryos shipped to Cambodia where the fledgling industry was just about to take off.

They used a local surrogacy agent and after their surrogate became pregnant on the first attempt, their baby, Mikey, became one of the first surrogate babies born in Cambodia on February 14 this year.

Greg told the website that many people were rushing to Cambodia to have babies through surrogacy. He was unsure how long it would remain legal here, and he and his partner wanted to try and have another surrogate baby in the Kingdom as soon as possible.

The couple were living in Spain, according to Gays With Kids, but planned to move to Ireland. When contacted via Facebook, Greg declined to comment further.

“The more publicity about surrogacy . . . the quicker it will close down . . . and the fewer chances for families like us to ever have kids,” he said. “[I’m] afraid the media has been no friend at all to the world of surrogacy.”

The Post has approached several other intended parents but all declined to comment for the same reason – that publicity would create opposition to commercial surrogacy in Cambodia and result in it being banned.

None of the surrogacy agencies contacted this week – including New Life Cambodia, New Genetics Global and Sensible Surrogacy – answered questions such as how many surrogacies they had facilitated, what countries their clients were from or what measures they had in place to ensure the wellbeing of surrogate mothers or children. New Life Cambodia founder Josh Lam cited privacy reasons. None of the others responded.

However, a Phnom Penh woman, who declined to be named because she signed a non-disclosure agreement, said that she was paid $10,000 to act as a surrogate for a foreign couple.

The surrogate mother said she was paid an extra $1,000 after it was discovered she was carrying twins.

She said that normally the surrogate would have to give 20 per cent of her $10,000 payment to the broker who introduced the surrogate to the surrogacy agency.

The surrogate mother said she had bought a piece of land on the edge of the city and was now saving up to build a home there for herself, her children and her mother.

While some have moral qualms about surrogacy in general, experts have raised concrete concerns that, without regulation, commercial surrogacy puts the wellbeing of surrogate mothers and surrogate children at risk, citing instances of mothers being left to pay medical expenses and disabled or extra children being abandoned by their intended parents.

Despite declaring surrogacy illegal in 2014, in practice, the Cambodian government’s policy on surrogacy remains unclear.

Surrogacy agencies maintain that when a surrogate baby is born, the genetic father will be put on the birth certificate, which along with a signed agreement from the surrogate mother and a DNA test is enough for the child to get a foreign passport, enabling them to leave the country.

Health Minister Mam Bunheng in December told the Post that the government’s approach to surrogacy had yet to be decided and the ministry would work with the ministries of social affairs and justice to develop a policy.

In recent weeks, Bunheng referred questions to the director general of the general technical department, Dr Or Vandin, who did not respond to numerous requests for an interview.

In the meantime, with Cambodia being touted as an “affordable” place for commercial surrogacy – though each pregnancy still costs upwards of $30,000 – the industry is continuing to expand.

According to the organisation Families Through Surrogacy, four IVF clinics that can perform the medical procedures necessary for surrogacy have opened in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap since 2014 (two contacted by the Post claimed they did not offer surrogacy services). More than a dozen agencies advertise online offering surrogacy services in Cambodia.

An emailed newsletter from New Life Cambodia in March obtained by the Post said the agency had facilitated 12 surrogate babies in Cambodia at that point with the majority having left the country. They said they were expecting a “baby boom” that month.

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