The Australian couple accused of abandoning a surrogate baby because he has Down's syndrome have reportedly gone missing.
Child protection officials visited the home of David and Wendy Farnell in Bunbury, Western Australia, twice today. Their dog was later taken away by animal protection officers. There was speculation that police could launch a search operation.
There was international outrage when it emerged the couple returned from Thailand with a baby girl born to the surrogate mother, but left her twin brother, Gammy, who has Down's, behind.
The agent who brokered the surrogacy deal said that the Farnells had offered to take the boy home.
“In the end, they told me they would take both babies,” the agent said. “They didn't want to be a problem for the surrogate mother any more but she did not take that chance.”
Gammy, now seven months old, is being treated for a lung infection in a hospital near Bangkok and also has heart problems.
Media reports that David Farnell was a sex offender have fuelled the outrage over the case.
Video: Baby Gammy row
According to Australian District Court documents obtained by Reuters, he was jailed in 1997 for a minimum of three years for sex offences involving three girls aged under 13. Reuters said it had been unable to contact Mr Farnell for comment despite repeated attempts to reach him by telephone.
The agent, who only gave her name as Joy, said the surrogate other, Pattaramon Chanbua, 21, had agreed to keep Gammy after discovering he had Down syndrome, fearing she would be asked to abort him, which she would have refused to do as a Buddhist.
But the couple then had a change of heart.
“They said they wanted to take both babies home. When the surrogate mum heard that, she called to say sorry. She said she wouldn't take payment but would keep Gammy,” Joy said, adding the agency had assured Ms Pattaramon she would not have to abort the child.
Joy, who gave up working for the agency several months ago, said no formal contract was ever signed by Ms Pattaramon, the agency and the couple.
Ms Pattaramon said on Sunday that the doctors, the agency and the baby's parents had known Gammy was disabled when she was four months pregnant but only told her in the seventh month.
A Thai official said on Tuesday that a Bangkok clinic may have violated Thailand's regulations on surrogacy and that the head of the clinic could face up to a year in jail.
He declined to identify the clinic, which authorities inspected on Tuesday. They are to check all clinics offering surrogacy services around the country to see if they are respecting regulations.
There are no laws directly relating to surrogacy in Thailand. It is largely tolerated, although commercial surrogacy is against the Medical Council of Thailand's code of conduct.
Surrogacy is allowed if blood relatives of the couple are the surrogates, but exceptions are permitted if such a surrogate is unavailable. The clinic involved in the current controversy was licensed to offer surrogate births under those regulations.