Sunday, April 23, 2017

Laos is the next explosion waiting to happen

In recent days news has come from Thailand that a man was arrested trying to smuggle vials of sperm into Laos. Apparently the export of sperm form Thailand is prohibited without government approval. And the alleged reason he was trying to do this?

Well the obvious one- it was to enable surrogacy to occur in Laos. Apparently this was his 13th trip across. The sperm is said to have come from Chinese and Vietnamese men and donated  in Bangkok.

Laos has no regulations concerning surrogacy. Recently a maternity hospital was built there- organised by Dr Pisit. Quite simply this is a bomb waiting to go off- just as we saw in Thailand, India, Nepal, Cambodia and Mexico.

This is the same Dr Pisit who was at the centre of the Baby Gammy saga- and the same Dr Pisit who helped a Japanese man have between 13 and 16 children through surrogacy. The same Dr Pisit who was charged by Thai authorities, and then apparently the charges were dropped.

As I said in January, if you are thinking of going to Laos for surrogacy- just as people ended up going to Cambodia and then got stuck- don't. There are other places to undertake surrogacy- lawfully and safely.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

A termite's guide to surrogacy

“TERMITES”!  This is the one word, aside from fire that will send a shiver up the spine of any homeowner.  For a couple of years or so I was a member of a business network, Action Network, along with Ben MacCotter and his father Jackson of MacCotter Pest Control. (I'm still a member, but regrettably they've left.) Each week Ben or Jackson would tell some story of death or devastation that would send a shiver up the spines of all the members present.  Sometimes we would hear about mound ants or cockroaches, rats or bird lice or even creepily of all – bed bugs, but the stories of devastation to ordinary homes caused by termites were the most traumatic and scary.

Whenever Ben wanted to scare everyone present, he would start out with that word: "TERMITES!" Instantly he would have everyone's attention.

One great story was about the home buyer who got a building and pest inspection report from a builder. It might be stating the obvious- but a builder isn't a pest inspector. He reported that the house was in great condition, "solid" and that there was no evidence of termites. Three weeks after purchase, the buyer was bathing her children and noticed termites in the bathroom door frame. On the MacCotter's checking the home and the report, they saw that the builder had taken photos of current termite activity- but not knowing what he was looking at declared that everything was OK.  He hadn't seen what a trained eye saw easily.

What have termites got to do with surrogacy?  Everyone says that buying a home is the most important financial transaction that occurs in your life and therefore the most important decision.  Buying a home is extremely important, but I wouldn’t consider it the most important.  The most important decision in someone’s life is whether or not to have a family.  For many people, the option of last resort (and in some cases, first resort) – that of surrogacy – is the only one open to them.

When buying a home, as with undertaking surrogacy, especially international surrogacy, prevention is better than cure.  You don’t have to have a building and pest inspection undertaken when buying a home.  With luck, you can save the money and buy a house and live in the house for the next 30 years without any drama.

However, not having a good building and pest inspection increases your risk.  It could be that the house you thought you bought was not the house you thought it was, it was merely a house of cardboard.  You still owe the debt to the bank, but you don’t have anything to show for it- except devastation and cost.

You could decide to get someone dodgy to do your building and pest inspection report.  Filled with self-delusion, you might satisfy yourself that you’ve done something – even if that something were entirely inadequate and you still have in fact a house that is made of cardboard, not solid at all.  

Or you could in buying a house go to a reputable pest controller, like MacCotter Pest Control, get a thorough report done, understand what your risks are and decide based on openness and transparency as to whether or not to proceed.

Quite simply, the same is for international surrogacy – the most complex way known to humanity about how to conceive a child.  

Not to get good quality legal advice from an Australian lawyer experienced in international surrogacy – before you go overseas is quite simply dangerous.  You might be committing a criminal offence that you didn’t know existed.  You might go to a dodgy agency.  You might pay far too much.
There is a lot of information out on the internet.  Much of it is inaccurate and may not apply in your circumstances.  

If you wouldn’t take the risk when you buy a home, why would you take a similar risk when spending a large amount of money, putting your heart on the line and having a baby through international surrogacy?

Monday, April 10, 2017

It may not be for long: Indians going to India for surrogacy

Amongst the reversal in the last year or so in India to apparently prevent anyone undertaking surrogacy there, what was overlooked is that there is a small bunch of people outside India who can still undertake surrogacy there: fellow Indians. But in all likelihood that won't last long.

A recap on history

India started surrogacy in a big scale in about 2007. It then grew explosively- and was estimated at its height to be a billion dollar industry.

But then the Indian government, embarrassed by bad stories, started changing the rules:

  • In April 2012, India started to require foreign intended parents to obtain a surrogacy visa. At first this was enforced inconsistently.
  • Then in July 2012, only publicised in October 2012, India required foreign intended parents to be married, and for surrogacy to be legal back home, and that they could take the baby home.
  • In 2014, following the Baby Gammy saga, there was a crackdown on Australians undertaking surrogacy there- making it very difficult for Aussies to undertake surrogacy in India. Again there was inconsistency in approaches.
  • In August 2015 the Nepal Supreme Court banned surrogacy there. The evidence in the case was that Nepali women were travelling to India to be surrogates, and that Indian women were travelling to Nepal to be surrogates.
  • In December 2015, in response to a similar case in the Indian Supreme Court, the Indian government announced that foreigners could not undertake surrogacy and that surrogacy would not be commercial.
 The current rules of the Indian Council for Medical Research require surrogacy to be altruistic- but surrogates are entitled to be compensated.

The 2016 Bill

In August 2016, the Indian Cabinet announced a Bill to restrict surrogacy in  India. This was a significant change from an earlier Bill that had been around in one form or another since 2008, but never enacted. The 2016 Bill requires:

  • surrogacy is restricted to married couples only
  • who are Indian citizens
  •  where one or both have medical infertility
  • surrogacy to be altruistic (with a much stricter definition than any Australian State)
  • the surrogate has to be a close family relative.
It seems that Non-Resident Indian's (NRI's) will be banned from undertaking surrogacy under the laws, but  the Bill on its face does not make that clear.

The Bill was introduced to Parliament in November last year and since then has slowly wended its way through the system. The Modi government has made plain that it wants the laws passed- and when that happens, the rules will change for NRI's.


Currently NRI's can undertake surrogacy in India, just like any other Indian citizens. The tricks for them are to comply with the law in India, the law in Australia, and follow migration rules to ensure their baby can come to Australia. This might mean a delay of months between when their baby is born and when their baby can join them in Australia- in the meantime having their baby cared for by extended family in India.


Persons of Indian Origin (POI's) however cannot undertake surrogacy in India. Although they appear to be Indian, identify as Indian, and may indeed have recently been Indian citizens, because they are not Indian citizens, they are like everyone else: they cannot undertake surrogacy there.

The unknown factor is if Indians living in Australia undertake surrogacy in India whether they will be caught during any change. If they do- the Australian government is unlikely to come to their aid. They are, after all, not Australian citizens.

Going overseas for surrogacy

Depending on where they live in Australia, those going to India might be doing so legally or committing a criminal offence. It is best to get expert legal advice on this first. I have advised a number of Indian couples who have undertaken surrogacy in India.

Designer Baby by Aaron Elias Brunsdon

I was privileged to attend the launch just over a week ago in Sydney of a book- Designer Baby- by Aaron Brunsdon. It tells the intimate story of Aaron and fashion designer Jayson Brunsdon and how they went to Thailand for surrogacy, and then got caught up in the hysteria following the Baby Gammy saga.

Aaron said that he invited me because when they got stuck in Thailand, my blog helped keep them sane - and was the light at the end of the tunnel. My blog inspired them.

The book is a great read. Here is an extract of the book, published by Impact Press, and available outside Australia through Simon and Schuster:

More couples are given hell at Bangkok Airport and forbidden from taking surrogate babies from the country without the damn court order. It is frightening.

One couple flatly refuse a demand to sign a letter at the airport. The letter contains an admission that their baby wasn't the result of any surrogacy arrangement, when in fact it was. Not signing means a return trip to the hotel until they can find a new exit strategy. But they are smart not to have signed the letter, which could have led to a conviction for human trafficking.

Another couple escape to Singapore, where they spend a few days before returning home. They are missed at the busy airport because they part ways at check in. Smart move! It is a close call, though. Cases keep pouring in, receiving night-time coverage on Today-Tonight, with other current affairs shows and TV documentaries also showing struggling couples on the wire. We watch the couples' attempts to leave Thailand, sadness and grief overshadowing the supposedly joyous time as they battle with Thai authorities.

One such Australian couple brings me to tears. The couple and their newborn twins aren't allowed through the airport security checkpoint because the customs officials are waiting for the surrogate to arrive so she can verify the exit permit was bona fide. The surrogate is running late, stuck in Bangkok traffic. The flight gets closer and closer to taking off. Finally the biological mother is allowed past customs' watchful eyes but she witnesses in anguish her husband and their crying twins waiting on the other side for the surrogate. Not knowing what to do while her children cried inconsolably for her settling arms. Her poor husband haggles with the customs officials, showing them all the relevant paperwork. They disregard the screaming babies.

I dread the thought of our exit out of Bangkok. I personally wouldn't know what to do if I was on one side of customs like the poor mother while Jayson and my baby got stuck on the other end, so I try not to think  about it. Let's not jinx it.

There are also shows like SBS's Insight, the Australian equivalent to BBC's Hardtalk. A panel consisting of parents with babies born through surrogacy in Thailand and India, industry experts and advocates debate the topic of surrogacy.

One woman voices rather strong opinions, saying surrogacy goes against women's fundamental rights. "It's reproductive prostitution where basically women are turned into breeders when children are bought and sold."

Another panellist, lawyer and surrogacy campaigner Stephen Page (my favourite blogger), who has helped many parents with surrogacy issues, says that although the law in some Australian states restrains people from engaging in commercial surrogacy, it is clear that hundreds are going down this road and no one is being prosecuted or penalised for their actions. "Why is the law in place then?" He presumes it is to prevent exploitation of women overseas. "But if you're not serious about prosecution, why not get rid of it completely? It's just crazy wanting to turn people who want to be parents into criminals, " he chastises.

At the launch of Designer Baby with my husband Mitchell.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

LGBTIQ intended parents information night in Brisbane

There will be a free information session in Brisbane to help LGBTIQ intended parents, would be donors and surrogates.

When LGBTIQ people want to be parents, they face many potential trips and traps that lie in wait for the unwary and the unprepared. Hear from three experts who can make the journey a much more joyous one!

A free information night is being held in Brisbane to help LGBTIQ intended parents (and donors and surrogates) become parents.

Dr Andrew Davidson is the medical director of Rainbow Fertility, Australia’s only dedicated LGBTIQ focused IVF clinic. Dr Davidson divides his time between patients in Brisbane and the Gold Coast. He will talk about medical issues to do with IVF, egg and sperm donation and surrogacy, including screening regimes, the use of egg banks, and the differences between known donors and clinic recruited donors.

Narelle Dickinson is a psychologist in private practice in Brisbane. Narelle has been a fertility counsellor for many years, and is a member of the Australia and New Zealand Infertility Counsellors Association. Narelle will talk about the psychological and emotional impacts of undertaking assisted reproductive treatment, including IVF, egg and sperm donation and surrogacy; and how the parents’ decisions during the process to have children can have huge impacts on their children’s lives.

The third speaker will be me! I will talk about the legal minefield that intended parents (and donors and surrogates) have to navigate when they want to be parents- whether through egg and sperm donation or surrogacy; and how to do so with minimal risk and maximum joy! I have helped clients throughout Australia and 25 countries with their fertility law issues.

There is a welcome drink on arrival and nibbles. Come along and ask lots of questions!

Date: Thursday 4 May 2017

Time: 6 for 6.30pm

Where: Brunswick Hotel, 569 Brunswick Street, New Farm

Cost: FREE

Tickets: These will be available on Eventbrite. I will update this post when they become available.