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Thailand clamps down on illegal surrogacy clinics

Thai authorities are stepping up efforts to clamp down on illegal surrogacy clinics and doctors involved in the procedure after recent high profile cases put the industry in the spotlight. 

BANGKOK: Thai authorities are stepping up efforts to clamp down on illegal surrogacy clinics and doctors involved in the procedure after recent high profile cases put the industry in the spotlight. But with current laws limiting authorities to take action only on doctors and clinic owners, a new law is being drafted to expand the government's powers to prosecute others involved as well.

Thai Police raided a condominium on August 5 after a tip-off that the place was a base for an illegal surrogacy ring. Nine surrogate babies were discovered, all fathered by one Japanese man. The babies are now in government custody, and authorities have turned their attention to Doctor Pisit Tantiwattanakul and his medical associates.

They are believed to be involved in an international surrogacy and human trafficking case involving Mitsutoki Shigeta - the Japanese businessman, who not only fathered the nine babies found last week, but another four, with Thai surrogate mothers.

Police are still trying to investigate Shigeta who has since fled Thailand, but as for Doctor Pisit - if he is found guilty, he could face up to three years' jail and fined 60,000 baht (S$2,350, US$1,880). His medical licence could also be revoked.

For now, authorities are clamping down on illegal surrogacy clinics and pursuing doctors like Doctor Pisit - as the existing law on surrogacy only covers the conduct of doctors and clinic owners, not others who are involved - such as the surrogate mother, broker, or biological parents.

However, the recent high profile surrogacy cases have prompted Thailand's military government to fast track a new law, restricting commercial surrogacy. Dr Boonrueng Trairuang-worawattana, director-general of the Department of Health Service Support at the Ministry of Health, said: "Firstly, the surrogate mother must be a relative of one of the parents of the child and have documentation to prove that. Secondly, surrogacy must not be for commercial or trading purposes."

The new law will also allow authorities to prosecute others involved in commercial surrogacy. But some doctors say members of the public also need to be educated that surrogacy is about giving opportunities to couples with difficulties in conceiving, and not about profit making.

Dr Supakdi Julwichitpong from the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the Siriraj Hospital, said: "The public must understand what surrogacy is about, why it is being done and what constitutes illegal surrogacy. There must be a clear indication as to why surrogacy is medically needed - not like at the present moment where the process can take place without any proper reasons given."

Weak regulation has made Thailand a major destination for international commercial surrogacy. There are currently 45 medical facilities and 240 doctors licensed to arrange surrogacy across the country. 

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