Sunday, August 3, 2014

Gammy: The Price of a Life

I have a story for you that almost defies belief. There are lessons in it on so many levels that I just wouldn’t know where to start. But then I don’t need to start because you will find these lessons yourself when you hear this story. It was originally released by a Bangkok newspaper and has since been picked up by many media outlets in the West.

Gammy is a six-month-old baby boy born in Thailand. His mother, Pattaramon Chanuba (21 years old), cut a deal with a surrogacy agency to serve as a surrogate for an Australian couple. She was offered nearly $12,000 to carry a baby for them. Pattaramon says that she and her husband agreed to do this because they are deeply in debt. The $12,000  was a huge sum for them. She says it will allow for her to pay off the family debt and to educate her children. She has never met the Australian couple.

When Pattaramon was three months pregnant, her doctor discovered that she was carrying twins, a boy and a girl. The surrogacy agency informed her that they would pay her an extra $1,600 and that the Australians would take both babies. But when she was four months pregnant, the doctor determined that the boy had Down Syndrome. Pattaramon informed the surrogacy agency. The Australians said they didn’t want the boy and the surrogacy agency told Pattaramon to have an abortion. Seriously. Can you believe this?

Pattaramon, a Buddhist, said that abortion was against her religion and she would keep the boy herself. The Australians said they would take the girl but not the boy. When the children were born, the doctors discovered that the boy, named Gammy, also has a congenital heart defect. The cost of the medical care required to keep him alive is beyond the reach of Pattaramon, even with the money she made by being a surrogate. She has two children already. The surrogacy agency took the girl at birth and the Australians, who have remained carefully unidentified by the surrogate agency, returned to Australia with her, abandoning Gammy, separating the twins, and apparently washing their hands of the whole situation.   

This is where the story takes a turn for the miraculous. Pattaramon says that she has fallen in love with the boy and she will raise him herself, in the embrace of her family. In order to pay for Gammy’s medical costs, an online fundraising site has been established through Hands Across the Water. The news about Gammy has spread in the online media like wildfire. Outraged people, not only Australians and Thais, but people from all over the world, have been donating to pay for Gammy’s medical care. All money raised is being held in trust to be used exclusively for Gammy’s care and wellbeing. “Hope for Gammy” has raised over $200,000 so far and money keeps pouring in.

In the wake of this incident. The Thai government has cracked down on the surrogacy business, declaring that the only legal surrogacy cases will be those between a married couple unable to conceive and a blood relative. Paid surrogacy is now illegal. And foreign couples taking a child from its birth mother to another country will require permission from Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Without permission the transport will be considered a violation of human trafficking laws and the culprits will be prosecuted.

This story strikes home for me in a very personal way. I have a dear childhood friend who is blessed with twin daughters who were born in 1974. One of the twins has Down Syndrome and the other does not. My friend and his wife have cherished both girls from the day they were born. Now in their forties, these two women remain as close as ever twins can be. The twin with Down has a rich life with many friends. She plays piano and belongs to a bowling league. She lives in an independent living community where she has her own apartment and her own life. Nine years ago, when my mother passed away, this woman with Down gave me great comfort in the simple words that she said to me at the funeral. While I have forgotten nearly everything said on that difficult day, I remember what she said.

Gammy getting some loving (from his now-brother, I presume).

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