ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
The U.S. is one of a handful of countries that allow commercial surrogacy. Thailand is another. Thailand has made itself a medical tourism Mecca in the past decade or so, and the baby business is no exception. As Michael Sullivan reports, it is largely unregulated, and it looks to be on the way out after a couple of high profile cases that have angered and embarrassed many in Thailand.
MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: This is baby Gammy, and if it weren't for him, we wouldn't even be talking about this. Gammy is nine months old and seems to like strangers, especially ones with big long microphones, which Gammy constantly tries to grab as he sits on the floor of his mother's room in Sriracha, the seaside city that gives the hot sauce its name. Gammy and his mom, Pattaramon Janbua, share the room with six other family members - one of the reasons, she says, why she decided to become a surrogate mom.
PATTARAMON JANBUA: (Foreign language spoken).
SULLIVAN: Of course, I did it for the money, she says, because our family is poor and I wanted to help my grandmother and to take better care of my other children. And there's nothing wrong with being a surrogate mother, she says. You're helping someone. Pattaramon - her nickname's Goy - got paid about $12,000 to carry Gammy and his twin sister for an Australian couple. But when doctors discovered during the pregnancy that Gammy had Down syndrome, the Aussies balked. They took the good baby - her words - and left Gammy behind. Goy couldn't believe it. I was so sad and angry, she says. I said this is your baby. Why don't you want to keep him? You abandoned him while he's still in the womb. But their translator told me they couldn't afford to take care of him. Goy says the family told her to abort Gammy, but she refused. And shortly after the Australian couple took the sister, Gammy's plight went viral. The Thai media started hitting the surrogacy story hard and quickly uncovered another even more bizarre story involving a Japanese Johnny Appleseed with lots of cash and a desire for lots of babies.
MARIAM KUKUNASHVILI: It's very hard to say what was his intention. When our representative asked him, he told us he wanted babies to win elections. I assumed this was a joke.
SULLIVAN: That's Mariam Kukunashvili. She's cofounder of Global Life IVF Clinics and Surrogacy Centers, with branches in nine countries, including Thailand. She says her agency provided the Japanese man with two surrogate mothers in the beginning, but then balked when he asked for more than a dozen a year. The man, in his early 20s, used several different agencies to father at least a dozen babies in Thailand - the last born just a few weeks ago. Taken together, the baby Gammy case and that of the Japanese man have proved embarrassing for Thailand, a country whose image was already dented by a military coup in May. The military is drafting a law that will effectively end commercial surrogacy here, though IVF clinics will still be allowed. Mariam Kukunashvili's business will suffer but in the end, she says, better regulation is key.
KUKUNASHVILI: There must be more - legislation must be very clear. It will be better because it will give chance to take proper steps to ensure such cases, such as Japanese man case or baby Gammy case, doesn't happen anymore.
SULLIVAN: But outlawing commercial surrogacy will create some losers, too. I meet Taksaporn Toosaranon in a park next to a spirited game of junior high basketball. She's 28 and she, too, delivered twins for an Australian couple. Her experience - vastly different than that of Gammy's mom. Both of her babies are healthy and so, too, is her relationship with their new parents.
(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO CHAT)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: This is Eli and Hannah. And look at Eli. He's got his hand around Hannah. Isn't that wonderful?
SULLIVAN: Taksaporn says she's in touch with the parents a couple of times a week, either by phone or videos like this one. She liked the money. It goes a long way here. And she liked the idea of helping someone. And she would consider doing it again if it remains legal. She doesn't believe commercial surrogacy should be banned.
TAKSAPORN TOOSARANON: (Foreign language spoken).
SULLIVAN: If they try to stop this business, she says, it'll just go underground. It'll be just like getting an illegal abortion, and that will make it more dangerous. She's not the only one who feels that way. Even baby Gammy's mother agrees, though, she wants the law to be changed to ensure what happened to her doesn't happen to others. But in the end, she says, things worked out. An Australian charity has raised several hundred thousand dollars to help care for Gammy. And she's grateful for that and for Gammy, she says, though sometimes when she sees him, she thinks of his twin sister and starts to cry. For NPR News, I'm Michael Sullivan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.