Thursday, January 23, 2014

Thai surrogacy research dispels myths about surrogacy in Thailand

Research undertaken by Japanese researchers into the Thai surrogacy experience shows that Thai surrogacy is not as an alien experience as sometimes assumed in the West, and that many of the motivations of surrogates in Western countries are also mirrored in Thai surrogates.

Here are some comparisons I've prepared between surrogates in Australia and those identified by the researchers of surrogates in Thailand:

They get paid.
No- except expenses
Most have had children before.
A minority have not had children before.
Many like being pregnant.
They want to help people without children to have children.
They want to atone in accordance with Buddhist principles.
They believe that the child is not their child, but the intended parents’ child.
They favour gestational surrogacy over traditional surrogacy.
They have a choice as to intended parents.
They are subject to counselling and psychological screening before surrogacy commences.

The researchers said that while the motivation to earn money is significant, and while surrogates do not have the psychological screening available to surrogates in the US, it is far too simple to say that their bodies are being commodified. Many of the Thai surrogates interviewed had been educated up to junior high school, and even university, several were middle class, and all had access to the internet.

Several were seeking to pay off family debt, and some were seeking to atone, in accordance with Buddhist principles, for having had abortions. Many wanted to help childless people by providing the gift of life, as surrogates do elsewhere, such as in the US and Australia.

Yuri Hibino and Yosuke Shimazono, writing in Asian Bioethics Review, said that surrogates were paid AUD$7,000-14,000 for successful delivery. These amounts are significantly greater  than a recent case reported that an Indian surrogate was paid for surrogacy- the equivalent of AUD$4,000-4,700.

For example:

Rapeepan stated that the major financial need arose from her mother’s kidney
disease: “I need money, because my mother requires dialysis treatment.” A
36-year-old divorcee explained that, as a divorcee and a breadwinner for her
household, which included two children and her mother, she was responsible
for feeding her family. Vorawan, a 29-year-old divorcée with one child to
support, stated that she needed income to pay off a debt incurred by her
mother’s business failure but also needed to take care of her child. When she
learnt about surrogacy, it appeared to be a good solution, as surrogacy was
an attractive means to gain income and also fulfil domestic and care-giving
responsibilities. In her words, “I am going to do this a few times to pay off
my mother’s 2,000,000 baht debt.
Some surrogates were not motivated by money, but out of pity for intending parents:

While interviewees frankly admitted the significance of financial incentives,
most also emphasised that the financial incentive was not the sole motivating
factor for posting an online surrogacy advertisement.
They stated that they felt pity for infertile couples and wanted to help
them have a child. For example, Eakarapong, a 34-year-old clerk and mother
of two, stated: “I want some money to start a small business, and I want
money for my children.” However, she also noted that compassion for infertile
couples was a major motivating factor. In her words, “I really wanted to help
them after I read the details on the Internet.” Many other women expressed
a similar idea. “I found the details on the Internet; there are a many couples
who want a baby, so, I thought I could help them,” stated Noppadon. “I
feel pity for childless couples,” said Keamrat. Similar statements were made
by Nattanan, a 34-year-old mother of a 12-year-old child. Rapeepan also ex-
plained, “I would like to feel the pleasure of helping an infertile couple have
a child.”
Some women stressed that their deep compassion for infertile couples out-
weighed economic motivations. Ratchanon, a 33-year-old nurse helper, stated: “I
paid for my child’s education. I don’t want a new house. I’ve already got a
car. If I get the money, I will give it to my mom.” According to her, pity
for an infertile couple was a stronger motivating factor than was earning money,
and she added that she would accept a lower fee if the commissioning couple
could not afford the ordinary fee. Similarly, Nattakorn, a 28-year-old house-
wife, stated that she would use the money that she received from a commis-
sioning couple for her two children. She also stated that “I feel like helping
others rather than receiving money.”
According to the researchers:

We must identify relevant social and cultural motivations other than
“economic” concerns to fully understand why women enter into surrogacy
arrangements. In this regard, a tentative conclusion that can be drawn from
our results is that the cultural norm determining a woman’s social role as
wife, mother, and daughter has a significant effect on a woman’s decision to
become a surrogate mother. Notably, wanting to help their parents was often
mentioned by our participants as a reason for becoming a surrogate, and this
harkens back to the cultural significance of the role of women in the Cognatic
kinship system in Thai society. The filial duty, conceived as repayment of a
debt incurred by being born and nourished, is imposed on children of both
sexes, but daughters are expected to take a more active role in caring for ageing
parents than are sons. This gender role is reinforced by a popular Buddhist
notion that a son can and should repay debt by becoming a monk, as offering
a son to Sangha is one of the most significant merit-making acts for parents
(Van Esterik 1982: 77; Keyes 1984: 227–30). Our interviewee’s statements
suggested that surrogacy is often linked with this gender role of women as
daughters. From a comparative perspective, the Indian surrogates described by
Pande and Vora, the Israeli surrogates described by Teman, and the American
surrogates described by Ragone did not mention a desire to help their parents
as a reason for becoming a surrogate as frequently as did the Thai surrogates
in our study. Another cultural factor that motivated a woman who had had
an abortion to become a surrogate was tan-bun(merit-making). One study
found that one-third of surrogate mothers had experienced abortion and this
led to the suggestion that reparation for having aborted a foetus may be an
explicit or implicit motivation for becoming a surrogate mother. This obser-
vation implicates surrogacy as a gender issue across borders.

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