The Cambodian Health Minster Mam Bunheng has published a directive appearing to ban all forms of surrogacy in the country.
The 'prakas', a form of ministerial decision, was circulated shortly after Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana described surrogacy as a form of human 'trading' and called for the practice to be prohibited.
The directive, which also governs the management of blood, ovum, and bone marrow, contains a single line stating that 'surrogacy, one of a set of services to have a baby by assisted reproductive technology, is completely banned'. It also bans commercial sperm donation and requires IVF clinics to seek permission to operate.
Questions have been raised about the legal status of the directive, however, along with the lack of clarity over what provision will be made for surrogates who are already pregnant and the failure to identify any legal repercussions or penalties if breached. Cambodian legal expert Sok Sam Oeun identifies this omission as stemming from the fact that while 'a prohibition [against] something must be made by the law', there is currently no law in place which supports the ban.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Women's Affairs, Phon Puthborey, explained that the prakas was 'a transitional period' while the government explores possible means of stopping potential rights abuses in the industry in order to protect 'women and children [from becoming] victims of trafficking'. Meanwhile Chin Malin of the Justice Ministry told the Phnom Penh Post that the government was currently 'in the process of studying [the matter, so we can start] drafting the law for [the] prevention of surrogacy'.
It is estimated that there are around 50 surrogacy agencies operating in Cambodia, with reports that commercial providers have moved their operations into the country following the prohibition of international surrogacy arrangements in India (see BioNews 824 and 866), Thailand (see BioNews 791), and Nepal (see BioNews 817). Commissioning parents from overseas are also said to be attracted by the lower medical costs and the absence of laws prohibiting surrogacy for single people or same-sex couples.
The Australian Sydney Morning Herald has reported that 'several dozen' Australian families have been attracted by surrogacy in Cambodia. Sam Everingham, global director of the Australian based consultancy group Families Through Surrogacy, told the newspaper that 'scores of Australians will be forced to abandon their embryos in Cambodia, along with their dreams of a family'.
Everingham is critical of the lack of clarity or information the directive provides. While acknowledging that 'every country has the right to determine what medical services it provides to foreign citizens', he said that surrogacy agreements are 'poles apart' from human trafficking and is 'concerned that such a ban has been introduced without any reasonable enquiry by Cambodian authorities into the local industry'.
The lack of guidance in the wording of the directive, and the absence of any national law, means that the impact the ban will have on surrogacy arrangements currently underway, and the status of any resulting children, is at this time unclear.