Pattaramon Chanbua, a 21-year-old food vendor with two young children of her own, has been bringing up baby boy Gammy since he was born in December.
She claimed the parents rejected Gammy while taking his healthy twin sister home to Western Australia state. The parents — named by local media as West Australian couple David and Wendy Farnell — have not spoken publicly, though third parties disputed claims they heartlessly abandoned the afflicted baby.
Australia’s Nine Network television reported that the father was a convicted paedophile.
Australian Associated Press said court documents show that a man, believed to be Gammy’s 56-year-old father, was convicted for sexually molesting three girls.
State broadcaster ABC added that he was jailed for sexually molesting two girls under the age of 10 when he was in his 20s. He was also accused in 1997 of another six charges of indecently dealing with a child.
“Personally, when I heard the news I was shocked but I can’t say anything much right now,” Pattaramon said at a press conference, adding that she would “leave it to the law” to see if she can get the girl back.
Professor Jenni Millbank, a surrogacy law expert at Sydney’s University of Technology, said Pattaramon could seek custody of the girl through the Australian courts. “She’s a legal parent. If she turned up in the Family Court tomorrow, she could seek the return of that child, if that’s what she wanted,” Ms Millbank told Nine Network television.
Surrogacy involves a woman carrying an implanted embryo in order to give birth, often because health issues prevent the biological mother from doing so. Legal doctrine on surrogacy is inconsistent, especially when different nationalities are involved. 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.
Pattaramon expressed sentimental attachment to the girl now in Australia, saying: “I want her back because she is my baby. She was in my womb.” However, she said she was inclined to leave the resolution of the issue up to “fate”.
“If she is happy, then I, as a mother, am also happy. I don’t want to bring her back to suffer or anything. A mother would never want her child in trouble,” she said. “But if she really cannot go on living there, then I’m very happy to have her back in my arms.”
She said she will never hand over 7-month-old Gammy to the parents. He has a congenital heart condition as well as Down syndrome: “Never. Not in any way.”
The case had already caused a stir because of the allegation that the Australian couple did not take home both children.
Pattaramon has also said she did not receive the full payment she was promised through a broker for serving as a surrogate mother. The agency has declined requests for an interview.
Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop said her department was working to consider what policy response the Australian government should make. “This tragic situation has arisen as a result of a commercial surrogacy arrangement,” she told reporters. “We’re looking at it from every angle.”
But prime minister Tony Abbott said “there are no easy answers when it comes to government”.
“For me, the one shining light to come from this most unfortunate, deeply regrettable situation is there appears to have been an absolute outpouring of generosity toward baby Gammy and his mother.”
The Australian charity Hands Across the Water has raised more than $215,000 (€161,760) since July 22 to help the baby.
The Australian couple said in a statement, issued through a friend to local newspaper the Bunbury Mail, the allegations that they abandoned Gammy were false and they did not know he had Down’s syndrome, although they were aware he had a congenital heart problem.
“Gammy was very sick when he was born and the biological parents were told he would not survive and he had a day, at best, to live and to say goodbye,” the friend, a woman, told the news-paper, without saying who told them this.
The birth of the twins was supposed to take place at an international hospital in Thailand but Pattharamon went to another facility, which made the surrogacy agreement void, according to the newspaper.
This meant the couple had no legal rights to the babies although the surrogate mother finally agreed to hand over the girl, the report said.
She added that allegations that the couple “ignored” Gammy when they visited the hospital were untrue and they had bought gifts for both infants. The friend said the couple spent two months in Thailand but due to military unrest at the time felt they had no option but to leave without Gammy.