A court in Western Australia has ruled that Pipah, the twin sister of so-called 'Baby Gammy', who was born to a Thai surrogate in 2013, should remain with her parents in Australia.
Baby Gammy – real name Nareubet Minjaroen – made international headlines in 2014 amid allegations that he was left behind with his Thai surrogate mother last year. Pattaramon Chanbua, the surrogate, claimed that the intended parents, who are from Australia, took home only one baby after she had twins, leaving Gammy behind because of his disability (see BioNews 765) – a version of events that the intended parents, David and Wendy Farnell, have always denied.
Chanbua later applied for legal custody of Pipah after learning that Mr Farnell was a convicted child sex offender and had been imprisoned in the 1990s.
Chief Judge of the Family Court Western Australia, Justice Stephen Thackray, said that Pipah should remain with the Australian parents. 'Pipah should not be removed from the only family she has ever known in order to be placed with people who would be total strangers to her,' he said.
In making the declaration, Justice Thackray also found that the couple had not intended to leave baby Gammy behind and did not try to access a trust fund set up for him through donations, as had been alleged.
Instead, the couple had asked an employee of the Thailand Surrogacy agency they used to 'plead with Chanbua for them to have both children' but 'finally accepted that Chanbua would not allow this'.
'I am not persuaded that the Farnells ever asked for Chanbua to have an abortion ... nevertheless, Chanbua gained the impression that the Farnells only wanted the 'healthy' baby,' said Justice Thackray.
He added: 'Although I cannot be sure of all that was said at around this time, it is clear that Chanbua had fallen in love with the twins she was carrying and had decided she was going to keep the boy.'
The judge also acknowledged that 'while it is a matter of grave concern to leave any child in the home of a convicted sex offender', there is 'a low risk of harm if Pipah stays in that home'. He noted that the three-year-old would be traumatised if removed from her home, but has 'taken into account the measures that can be put in place to ensure Pipah is kept safe'.
Those measures include officers from the Department of Child Protection visiting at least three times a year by appointment, as well as additional unannounced visits. The family must also comply with a 'safety plan' developed for Pipah.
Justice Thackray said the case highlighted that 'surrogate mothers are not baby-growing machines, or gestational carriers'.
He added: 'The appalling outcome of Gammy and Pipah being separated has brought commercial surrogacy into the spotlight... This case serves to highlight the dilemmas that arise when the reproductive capacities of women are turned into saleable commodities, with all the usual fallout when contracts go wrong.'