The development of assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs) over the past several decades has enabled infertile couples to fulfil their desire to have their children. In particular, in vitro fertilisation (IVF) has made it possible to “separate the procreation of an embryo from its gestation”, thereby giving rise to various novel possibilities for infertile couples to have children. These include “the possibility of finding substitutes not just for parental genetic material but for the womb” (Strathern 2003). The practice of nourishing another’s foetus in the womb is known as surrogacy.
Surrogacy has been the most contentious use of ARTs. Although surrogacy is totally prohibited in some European countries such as Germany, France, and Austria, it is permitted in a non-commercial form in other countries such as the UK. The US has long been the sole country in which commercial surrogacy has been practised openly, with some states permitting the operation of for-profit agencies that arrange surrogacy contracts. However, this situation has been rapidly changing during the past decade. With the dissemination of ARTs throughout the world, the practice of commercial surrogacy has been developing in other countries. In particular, India has been emerging as a hub of transnational surrogacy and has attracted many individuals from around the world.
Whereas commercial surrogacy has not yet evolved into a huge industry as it has in India, it is nonetheless being practised in Thailand, where about 30 IVF clinics are currently operating and approximately 3,000–4,000 IVF cycles are performed annually. According to national records, 2,623 IVF [End Page 56] cycles were performed in 2003, 3,140 cycles in 2005, and 3,304 cycles in 2007 (Vutyavanich et al. 2011). The practice of third-party reproduction is currently “regulated” by guidelines issued by the Medical Council of Thailand in 1997 and 2001 (Announcement nos. 1/2540 and 21/2545). These guidelines prohibit medical practitioners from becoming involved in commercial activities pertaining to gamete donation and surrogacy as well as from practising pre-implantation embryo sex selection. The ARTs Bill, which included prohibition of commercial surrogacy and egg donation, was approved by the Thai Cabinet in June 2010 but was left unratified by the National Assembly. In February 2010, the police arrested a Taiwanese brokering agency called “Baby 101” and held in custody 15 Vietnamese women who were being trafficked to deliver “designer babies” to foreign clients for a fee of about USD5,000. Media coverage of this incident caused a huge controversy, and the need for ART legislation has been widely recognised. However, ARTs in Thailand remain in legal limbo under the current conditions. Consequently, commercialisation of third-party reproduction has been occurring.
Although not yet as common as paid egg donation, the practice of monetary remuneration for surrogacy has been gradually gaining ground. Advertisements for surrogacy are found on the internet but not on agency websites that openly run commercial surrogacy programmes; instead, they are found on online message boards that usually serve as a medium for Thai infertile couples to exchange information and share experiences. Message boards or internet forums found on websites, such as weneedbaby.com, clinicrak.com, or Dr. Seri’s clinic, have become a platform for arranging surrogacy and egg donation. Although few doctors and clinics actively facilitate these procedures, monetarily remunerated surrogacy is practised with connivance.
“I am a 26-year-old woman. I am in good health, fair skinned, and, most importantly, have a pleasant personality,” says a message written in Thai. It continues: “I have completed my undergraduate degree with excellent results, and I am currently enrolled in graduate school. I am not ready to have my own child. Please contact me if you are interested.” This is the kind of message that one would expect to find at an online dating site. However, a Thai woman who posted this on a message board does not expect any reply from a man looking for a marital partner or a girlfriend. The reply she expects is one from infertile couples looking for an egg donor or surrogate mother. Other messages are more straightforward...