The news out of Thailand breaks my heart. Since 2015, Thailand has rightly protected its women and children by closing its doors to international surrogacy arrangements. Now, almost ten years later, news has spread that the government plans to reverse course as part of a wider reform of regulations on assisted reproduction. 

As one group on Twitter wrote, “This is a colossal mistake — it will see Thailand becoming the next big surrogacy destination, Thai women exploited and babies trafficked.” We agree whole-heartedly. 

I am reminded of the George Santayana quote, “Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.” Thailand banned international surrogacy in 2015 after a series of scandals in the fertility tourism industry. One of the most controversial surrogacy cases came out of Thailand prior to the ban and involved a little boy known as Baby Gammy. Baby Gammy was born with Down syndrome and was abandoned by his Australian “intended parents” after birth. The surrogate mother ended up raising Gammy, and applied for custody of his twin sister as well (her request was denied). Also of note in the case, it was discovered that the intended father, David Farnell, was/is a child sex offender. The other case was dubbed a “baby factory” scandal  involving Mitsutoki Shigeta, a Japanese businessman, using Thai surrogate mothers to father his goal of 10-15 children a year. It’s clear to me that Thailand has either forgotten its past or failed to learn from it and is now bound to repeat it. No doubt, it will become a booming fertility tourism industry, but it will be plagued once again with controversy and heartache. 

Some claim that legalizing reproductive tourism will help with the current problem of illegal surrogacy arrangements and the smuggling of embryos, sperm, and eggs into and out of the country. This logic is flawed as legalization does not decrease the instance of illegal activity. Further, there are many instances, like organ selling, that occur illegally and are still prohibited. 

Currently, surrogacy in Thailand is legal for Thai couples that have been married at least three years where one spouse holds Thai nationality. While we hold that all forms of surrogacy, even for married couples, ought to be banned, the move to revert back to regressive and harmful practices of cross-border surrogacy is a dangerous step in the wrong direction.

As stated, this push to regress back in time is part of a wider reform. Thailand officials “will also push for amendments to the act to, for example, allow women’s biological relatives aged 20-40 to donate eggs, and to permit women older than 55 to arrange for surrogacy mothers… The proposed changes will be submitted for approval later this year. I wonder how long it will take for them to realize the mistake they are making?