Canberra has made another move to secure the passage for Australian couples using Thailand's surrogacy services so they can bring their babies home.
Peter Varghese, the secretary of Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, met with a top Thai government official yesterday to discuss finding a solution to the issue during a transitional period as Thailand seeks to clamp down on commercial surrogacy through an upcoming law.
This month, the military's ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) approved the draft law, which is designed to protect babies born through assisted reproductive technologies in the wake of "Baby Gammy" scandal.
Born with Down syndrome, Gammy was left behind in Thailand by his Australian parents.
Before it becomes law, the National Legislative Assembly must deliberate and pass the legislation.
There are now concerns that Thailand will make it hard for Australian couples to leave the country with babies born through the country's surrogacy services. In addressing the concerns, Australian authorities have made several moves in an attempt to stop that from happening. Varghese yesterday told Charnchao Chaiyanukij, acting permanent secretary for Justice, that there were about 200 pending surrogacy cases involving Australian couples in Thailand.
"We have to address the issue for the best interests of the babies," Varghese said.
According to Charnchao, Varghese explained that the Australian Embassy in Bangkok strictly required DNA proof before granting Australian citizenship to any baby purportedly born through a surrogate mother.
The surrogate mother must also give her consent before an Australian couple can take their baby home.
Charnchao said Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha, who is also the NCPO chief, had emphasised that relevant authorities must tackle the issue in line with humanitarian principles.
"We will focus on what benefits the babies the most," Charnchao said.
He said General Paiboon Khumchaya, who is in charge of legal and judicial affairs for the junta, was preparing to discuss with 17 relevant organisations ways to develop clear-cut guidelines regarding commercial surrogacy.
Thailand currently does not have a law governing the practice. Only the Medical Council has regulations addressing the issue. According to the regulations, doctors must not provide services to surrogate mothers paid to carry a baby. Offenders risk losing their medical licences.
The council's president Dr Somsak Lolekha yesterday said the body had questioned three doctors accused of violating the regulations.
"The council's board will convene a meeting on September 5 to decide on their cases and to determine if punishments should be meted out," Somsak said, adding that another three doctors would soon be summoned over the same accusation.
The Department of Health Service Support, meanwhile, has imposed 60-day closure notices on six medical facilities involved in surrogacy services on the grounds that they had failed to ensure their doctors complied with the Medical Council's regulations.
Commenting on the upcoming surrogacy bill, Somsak said he would prefer to see the law stipulate that surrogacy services must be performed in line with the Medical Council's regulations instead of banning the practice.
"In some cases, we have to relax the regulations to help couples who really can't find any blood relative or an in-law to serve as surrogate mothers. But when it becomes the law, it's going to be hard to grant an exemption," Somsak said.