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Thailand pushes to ban commercial surrogacy as Australian, Japanese cases raise concerns

Thai surrogate mother Pattaramon Chanbua poses with Gammy, a nine-month old baby boy who was born with a Down syndrome, at a hospital in Sri Racha, Thailand on Aug. 3, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Apichart Weerawong

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Thai surrogate mother Pattaramon Chanbua poses with Gammy, a nine-month old baby boy who was born with a Down syndrome, at a hospital in Sri Racha, Thailand on Aug. 3, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Apichart Weerawong

BANGKOK - Thailand pushed to ban commercial surrogacy Thursday as a case involving nine surrogate babies allegedly with the same Japanese father emerged just days after a furor over the alleged abandonment of a surrogate-born baby with Down syndrome.

The discovery of the nine babies being cared for by nannies in a Bangkok condominium followed accusations by a Thai surrogate that an Australian couple had left the boy with Down syndrome to be raised by her, while taking home his healthy twin sister. The scandal has focused global attention on the largely unregulated industry in Thailand, which authorities say became a go-to destination for commercial surrogacy after well-off countries tightened their own laws.

Officials here said Thursday that the draft of a law banning surrogacy has been submitted to the junta's head of legal and justice affairs and will be forwarded to the newly-established interim legislature for consideration next week.

"Now is good timing, as the steps (toward passing the law) have been completed," Rarinthip Sirorat, an executive from the Social Development and Human Security Ministry, said at a news conference. "The purpose of this law is to give maximum benefits to the surrogate babies."

According to the draft, the new law would prohibit commercial surrogacy and those violating the law will face up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to 200,000 baht ($6,200). Agencies, advertisers or recruiters of surrogate mothers will face up to five years in jail and a fine of up to 100,000 baht ($3,100).

Surrogacy involves a woman who bears a child for someone else, often with an implanted embryo from biological parents unable to do so. Legal doctrine is inconsistent. Countries such as India, Ukraine and Thailand have fairly lenient regulations and are popular for parents in developed countries looking for lower-cost surrogate mothers.

Thai authorities were prompted to look into the issue of commercial surrogacy after they learned of "Baby Gammy," who is being raised by his surrogate mother in eastern Thailand. The woman's allegation that his Australian biological parents took home their healthy daughter and abandoned the blond, brown-eyed boy with Down syndrome and a congenital heart condition sparked outrage worldwide.

Government agencies held four press conferences on Thursday to explain Thai law and issues regarding surrogacy.

The existing regulations issued by Thailand's Medical Council cover doctors and medical institutes, but not surrogacy agencies or surrogate mothers, leaving room for commercial surrogacy to take place without oversight.

Following publicity over Gammy's case, Thai authorities this week began investigating another case involving nine babies found at a condominium in northern Bangkok who were allegedly fathered by a Japanese businessman.

Police Col. Napanwut Liemsa-nguan of the police's Children and Women Protection Division said the man's lawyer claimed his client fathered all nine babies and that the surrogacy arrangements were legal.

Thailand has 42 clinics and medical institutes and 240 doctors licensed to use assisted reproductive technology, using artificial means to achieve pregnancy, according to Boonruang Triruangworawat, the Health Service Support Department's director-general.

"The assisted reproductive technology has existed in Thailand for a long time but now it's become an issue because there are stricter regulations in other countries," Boonruang said. "The parents have migrated to Thailand because Thailand does not actively go after the issue. They will now understand that the Thai law will be stricter."

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