Baby Gammy’s case has many unknowns

But at least it has shone a light on the murky world of international surrogacy


You can’t send a baby back. But you can have one made to order, so why not? In our world where almost anything – including human sperm – can be bought instantly at any time of night or day without the need even to get out of bed, the sad story of Gammy, the Down’s baby allegedly unwanted by the parents who paid someone to have him, was always going to happen.

Surrogacy – which can enable infertile or same-sex couples to have children – is surely one of the marvels of modern science. It is, quite literally, life-affirming. And, as anyone who knows adults who have become parents in this way will tell you, it can be utterly joyous. But what happens if it all goes wrong?

The surrogate mother in this case – 21-year-old Pattharamon Janbua, married with two children, who works as a food vendor in a village outside Bangkok and who clearly needed some cash – says the Australian couple who hired her (apparently for about £9,000) had no intention of taking on Gammy. When they found out one of the twins she was carrying was a Down’s baby, she claims she was urged to abort him. She refused to do this on religious grounds, and thus carried both children to term. Collecting his healthy baby sister, the Australian father apparently did not acknowledge Gammy in any way. He brought milk for his daughter, says Ms Pattharamon, picked her up and left.

Six months later, little Gammy has a life-threatening lung condition and requires heart surgery. He is clinging on to life while his young surrogate mother clings on to him before the cameras of the world’s press. On the face of it, the Australians – wealthy, older, anonymous, heartless – have behaved as if they had ordered something on Amazon and found it faulty. Their inhuman behaviour – it doesn’t get much worse than leaving a disabled baby behind in its cot – has been damned across the world. 

If this is, indeed, what happened. The world of commercial surrogacy – illegal in many countries, yet smiled upon in others (there are places in India, apparently, with surrogacy “dormitories”, so in-demand are the wombs of their female citizens) – is a dark, largely unregulated, undercover business at the best of times. The couple in this case have suggested that they didn’t know Gammy even existed.

Who knows whether Gammy was indeed “abandoned” in the maternity ward by his father. There are plenty of delivery ward tales of surrogate mothers refusing to give up their charges. Who is to say that Ms Pattharamon is not someone who has found herself at the eye of a media whirlwind, and that having got there, is now determined to hang on in there as long as she can?

It seems strange, given the fact that she was originally a surrogate, that she has apparently rejected all offers from well-wishers across the world very eager and willing to bring up Gammy. Without Gammy, she goes back to being a poor food vendor, wife and mother of two unremarkable children.

Equally, if Ms Pattharamon’s version of events is correct, and the Australian couple felt unable to take on a Down’s baby, it ill befits commentators, particularly people with able-bodied children, to point the moral finger at them. Having a Down’s child can be marvellous. It can also be a life sentence. There are colossal variables between those two positions; but one thing on which we can all perhaps be agreed is that bringing up a Down’s child is an utter game-changer. And perhaps this couple, who had already been brave enough to plunge into the whole difficult world of surrogacy, felt this was one last challenge that they could not rise to.

So perhaps we should cast a sceptical eye on the pictures of Gammy, the campaign to save him (which has already raised £120,000, and counting), and yes, even the angelic face of his religious, demure, strapped-for-cash-yet-loving, hard-working, surrogate mother.

Perhaps the best thing that can come out of this whole sad saga is that surrogacy receives some proper global legislation and, if not actual regulation, then at least some stern guidelines, which governments can be urged to sign up to. Relying on a vague notion of morality, which is a wholly different thing in different countries and under different religions, is not good enough.

The phenomenon of wealthy people paying poor people from far away to give birth to their children is not going to go away, or at least not as long as the inequity between rich and poor countries lasts. And you can’t uninvent advances in science.

While here in Britain, maybe we should take more notice of interventions such as our new national sperm bank, which opens in Birmingham later this year. It is partly funded by the NHS and is apparently going to be equipped with an online “catalogue” carrying details about donors’ looks, hobbies and professions. So now you can not only choose whether your child will be tall with blue or brown eyes, you can also select one who has the potential of being a brilliant doctor while holding down a scratch handicap at golf.


A nation of property developers

If your partner ever wanders past and casually says that he, or she, is thinking of re-tiling the bathroom, or putting up some shelves, please don’t take this as an attempt to spruce up your home. It’s not. It’s all about getting a better price for it. According to something called the European Home Report, which was commissioned by B&Q, we don’t no longer do DIY in order to make our houses groovier places in which to actually live. We do it solely in order to increase our home’s market value. Because we don’t see our houses as habitats. We see them as cash cows, right?

In which case, Team Millard is never moving, since my husband and I are utterly rubbish at all forms of DIY. In fact, it’s a miracle I ever married him at all. Another element of this report suggests that being handy with a Black & Decker is a major element in male-female attraction. Being clever, says the report, is the No 1 male attribute for us laydeez. Being cultured is No 2. And No 3? Being good at DIY. Which is news to me. I always thought that it was being able to tell jokes.


The art  of raising bourgeois children

Children may not enjoy galleries like the Musee d’Orsay in Paris, but learning to feign interest will prove important when they’re older joel sagat/afp

It’s very reassuring to know that, whatever stage I reach in life, the middle-aged artists once known as the YBAs will be out there, somewhere in the ether, saying something provocative. The latest iconoclastic missive comes from that daring spirit Jake Chapman, who has thrown the cat among the worthy pigeons by rubbishing the modern religious activity known as Taking Your Child to a Gallery. Pointless, says the naughty man, whose most famous work of art involves sculpting genitals on to the face of pre-pubescent children. Waste of time, Chapman says. Kids don’t understand Rothko, or Matisse, or Pollock.

As the mother of one who once announced that “the National Gallery is the most boring place on the planet. Second only to the Prado”, maybe he has a point. But the most hilarious result of Chapman’s outburst is the entertaining tirade of comments from his peers, ranging from the affronted (Antony Gormley), to the quizzical (Jeremy Deller) and the straightforward (Grayson Perry), who very sensibly says that all children should go to galleries, because it is only by walking around the halls of the Tates, the British Museum, the National Gallery, and indeed the Prado, that young people know how to be truly middle class. “It is akin to using a knife and fork.” Quite.

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