CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Seven-month-old Gammy, who was born with Down syndrome and a congenital heart condition, is being cared for by his young Thai surrogate mother after his Australian biological parents left him behind in Thailand, taking home only his healthy twin sister.
Now the Australian government says it is considering intervening in the case, with the country’s immigration minister saying Monday that the little blond, brown-eyed boy might be entitled to Australian citizenship.
Pattaramon Chanbua, a 21-year-old food vendor who has two young children of her own, says she met the Australian couple only once, when the babies were born, and knew only that they lived in Western Australia state. The couple has not been publicly identified.
Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison called Pattaramon “an absolute hero” and “a saint,” but said the law surrounding the case “is very, very murky.”
“We are taking a close look at what can be done here, but I wouldn’t want to raise any false hopes or expectations,” Morrison told Sydney Radio 2GB. “We are dealing with something that has happened in another country’s jurisdiction.”
Morrison’s office later said in a statement that “the child may be eligible for Australian citizenship,” though it did not elaborate. Australian citizens are entitled to free health care in Australia.
Speaking Sunday from her Thai seaside town of Sri Racha, Pattaramon said that she was not angry with the biological parents for leaving Gammy behind, and that she hoped they would take good care of his twin sister.
“I’ve never felt angry at them or hated them. I’m always willing to forgive them,” Pattaramon told The Associated Press. “I want to see that they love the baby girl as much as my family loves Gammy. I want her to be well taken care of.”
Pattaramon was promised 300,000 baht ($9,300) by a surrogacy agency in Bangkok, Thailand’s capital, to be a surrogate for the Australian couple, but says she has not been fully paid since the babies were born last December.
She said the agency knew about Gammy’s condition four or five months after she became pregnant but did not tell her. It wasn’t until the seventh month of her pregnancy that the doctors and the agency told her the twin boy had Down syndrome and suggested that she abort the fetus.
Pattaramon recalled strongly rejecting the idea, believing that having an abortion would be sinful. “I asked them, ‘Are you still humans?’ I really wanted to know,” she said.
An online campaign by the Australian charity organization Hands Across the Water to help Gammy has raised more than $215,000 since July 22.
Mora Kelly, founder of the Children First Foundation, which brings sick children from developing countries to Australia for medical treatment, said she had discussed with Hands Across the Water the possibility of bringing Gammy to the Australian city of Melbourne for heart surgery.
“I believe that this child should be able to access our health care system here in Australia,” Kelly told Australian Broadcasting Corp. “This child, in essence … should be an Australian citizen.”
But Hands Across the Water founder and chairman Peter Baines said Pattaramon and her family’s wishes would need to be considered in any decision to fly Gammy to Australia.
“Certainly our position is that there is no need to bring Gammy out to Australia,” Baines said. “There’s a high level of medical care available in Thailand and there’s nothing to my knowledge that indicates he’s suffering from something that can’t be treated in Thailand.”
Gammy was moved from a public to a private hospital on Saturday and is being treated for a lung infection. Heart surgery has not yet been scheduled, Baines said.
The Australian broadcaster, ABC, reported that Gammy’s biological father has denied intentionally abandoning his son in Thailand, saying he did not know that his daughter had a twin.
Pattaramon’s case highlights the rising problem of surrogacy in Thailand, where legal loopholes allow the practice to exist. Thai officials said last week that there were 50 surrogate babies of Israeli couples in Thailand who were not able to travel to Israel due to nationality issues.
“The Thai authorities are pushing for a law that will ban surrogacy of non-family members, but there is no punishment right now,” said Pavena Hongsakul, a former Thai social development and human security minister and advocate for women’s and children’s rights. “This is a worrying trend as it can lead to other problems, such as human trafficking.”
It is illegal to pay a surrogate mother in Australia, and in some states, excluding Western Australia, it is also illegal to pay a surrogate living overseas. An Australian woman can act as a surrogate for free, but also has a right to keep the child rather than hand it over to the biological parents.
Pattaramon, who has a 6-year-old son and a 3-year-old daughter, has had to take a break from her job to care for little Gammy. She says she approached the Thai surrogacy agency on Facebook early last year because she needed money to care for her children and pay off debts. She said she plans to file a complaint with Thai police to get the rest of the unpaid compensation money from the agency.