After Ban, Surrogacy Brokers Look To Laos

Brokers who hired Cambodian women to carry the children of foreign parents before the practice was banned are now developing cross-border arrangements with Laos and Malaysia, according to U.S.-based advisory agency Sensible Surrogacy.

New Genetics Global, Talent IVF and World Fertility Services are among the companies that were operating in Cambodia before surrogacy was banned here earlier this month, and had already opened operations in Laos, according to Australia-based advocacy group Families Through Surrogacy.

The pronouncement by Health Minister Mam Bunheng banning surrogate pregnancy in Cambodia, at least until a law regulating the practice is enacted, will likely push many of these operations to nearby countries with few regulations, Sensible Surrogacy said.

“Service providers who worked exclusively in Cambodia are now developing packages to take advantage of the policy by creating cross-border programs with nearby countries, such as Laos or Malaysia,” says a statement posted to its website this month.

“At least two reputable IVF clinics in Vientiane were opened after the change in laws in Thailand. Now these clinics may become destinations for surrogacy families turned away in Cambodia.”

Infertile and same-sex couples from Australia, the U.S. and European countries have for years turned to Asian nations where surrogacy is less-regulated and cheaper than it is in the other few countries where it is legal. Popular destinations such as Thailand, India and Nepal have placed strict regulations on the practice, leaving couples looking for new options, which for a few months included Cambodia.

And while some are now looking to Laos, surrogacy brokers and industry experts are offering contradictory messages on the wisdom of couples planning surrogacy arrangements in the developing and corrupt communist country.

As agencies in Laos advertise the government’s seemingly indifferent position, industry experts are warning would-be parents that the country does not have the capacity to provide adequate oversight and is likely to respond similarly to other Southeast Asian governments by making sudden legal changes.

Laos Fertility, a U.S.-based referral agency, states on its website that a lack of clear interpretation of existing legislation by the Laotian government means that surrogacy is currently available in the country.

“Because of this lack of decision, surrogacy in Laos remains open to the government’s interpretation,” the company’s website says. “This opens the door for intended parents to do surrogacy in the kingdom at least for the time being.”

New Genetics Global, which began offering its services in Cambodia following a ban on surrogacy in Thailand, has also declared surrogacy is “unregulated” in Laos. Josh Lam, its chief executive, said the company was currently transitioning to the country and would soon advise its Cambodian clients about where deliveries would take place.

“Due to the complexity of the cross-border citizenship, and surrogacy regulations between countries, we have to exercise caution based on the varying legalities stemming from each [intending parent’s] own nationalities,” he said in an email.

In September, shortly after the Cambodian government announced its intention to regulate surrogacy, Mr. Lam said the firm was already preparing for a possible shift.

“Should surrogacy be regulated in Cambodia, we have already started setting up shop in Laos,” he said at the time.

Talent IVF and World Fertility Services did not respond to requests for comment.

Sensible Surrogacy says Laos is far from an ideal option for parents.

“Laos is a possible option for couples who are already committed to Cambodia, but new clients should not be recommended Laos as an option,” its website says.

Sam Everingham, director of Families Through Surrogacy, said “blanket bans” in developing countries are pushing the industry

to relocate to neighboring states that are even less equipped to regulate and monitor safe surrogate practices.

“Laos is a country with limited access to reliable maternity units, a very poorly educated population and high levels of corruption,” Mr. Everingham said in an email.

“It is no place for a sustainable, responsibly managed surrogacy operation which protects the rights of surrogates, children and intended parents.”

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