Surrogacy regime to be thawed in Thailand as the Pheu Thai-led government greenlights foreign couples to access surrogacy services in the kingdom. The shift from the 2015 law is another gigantic step for LGBTQ+ rights.

Thailand is to liberalise its surrogacy laws. The Pheu Thai-led government of Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin has just announced that foreigners will no longer be prohibited from surrogacy services in the kingdom. At the same time, the new surrogacy amendment to a highly restrictive 2015 law will open up options to Thai couples seeking to have children. The move by the government is seen as another gigantic step forward for LBGTQ rights. It comes at the same time as a new gender law is being pursued and a same-sex marriage provision is also before parliament. It is also being seen as a step toward combating Thailand’s rapid decline in population. However, the move is a complete volte-face to the 2015 junta law and may face opposition from conservatives and traditionalists in Thailand.

Arkhom Praditsuwan (left), Deputy Director-General of the Department of Health Service Support has announced the changes. (Inset ) Gordon Lake and Manuel Santos, a same-sex couple with their daughter Carmen, pictured after they won a landmark case in Bangkok in 2016. It came after a Thai surrogate mother backed out of an agreement at the last minute.

In a groundbreaking move and a departure from previous policy, Thailand is poised to overhaul the country’s surrogacy laws. A new law being drafted will open the door for foreign couples to engage in surrogacy services within its borders.

The Department of Health Service Support at the Ministry of Public Health is spearheading this initiative.

In short, it aims to promote high-standard reproductive services while cracking down on human trafficking.

2015 law imposed by the then junta was a knee-jerk reaction to a growing service industry which catered for foreign couples including many LGBTQ parents

Presently, the Protection for Children Born Through Assisted Reproductive Technologies Act restricts surrogacy to Thai nationals only. Even then, the law is limited to family relations.

The 2015 law was a knee-jerk reaction to public qualms over foreigners using Thai women as surrogates.

In particular, LGBTQ couples. It was imposed by the junta government led by former Prime Minister Prayut Chan Ocha.

The proposed surrogacy regime change comes following the arrest of a 33-year-old man over a week ago.

Underworld surrogacy trade exposed, man arrested for smuggling semen from Thailand into Laos

Theeraphong Chaisuk was arrested outside his home in Bangkok. He was charged with smuggling semen into Laos in 2017. 

The accused man openly admitted the service was part of an international surrogacy operation. He explained to police that he played only a minor role.

The case highlights the extensive prevalence of trafficking and illegality in the industry. This sprung up after the law changed in 2015.

New surrogacy amendment expected to stimulate the healthcare service sector which already provides limited surrogacy services to Thais under the 2015 law

Certainly, the proposed amendment to the 2015 law will enable foreign couples to avail themselves of surrogacy services in Thailand. This will come either from bringing in their own surrogate mothers or selecting from the pool of Thai women. 

Arkhom Praditsuwan, Deputy Director-General of the Department of Health Service Support, heralded the forthcoming changes. 

He declared that Thailand would be at the forefront globally if the bill passes.

The move is expected to stimulate the health economy, drawing increased attention from international couples seeking surrogacy services.

Crucially, the amended legislation will incorporate stringent measures to combat human trafficking, a long-standing concern. Especially, in view of the illegal surrogacy industry that has developed involving foreigners. 

Such activities involve the smuggling of reproductive materials such as frozen semen, eggs, and embryos.

Thai police have been engaged in the detection and investigation of such activities. On this basis, the need for a comprehensive regulatory framework has been established.

Thai public was shocked by reports of foreign couples in ‘womb for hire’ stories over ten years ago. 2015 law allowed the domestic industry to stabilise

The current surrogacy law, enacted in 2015, was a response to scandals surrounding unregulated surrogacy practices. Media coverage and news stories made the practice colloquially known as ‘wombs for hire.’

The 2015 law’s strict and onerous provisions prohibited foreign couples from accessing surrogacy services. In brief, it aimed and indeed succeeded at curtailing exploitative practices and protecting vulnerable women.

Dr Sura Wisedsak, Director-General of the Department of Health Service Support, emphasised the positive impact of the current legislation. Unquestionably, it has assisted couples fighting to overcome fertility issues. 

At this time, with fertility treatment available at 115 facilities nationwide, Thailand has positioned itself well.

The kingdom has become respected as a hub for reproductive services. This is now recognised internationally. For instance, the kingdom’s advanced technologies and growing success rates in assisted reproduction.

Changes in society including a rapidly falling population have brought about a change of thinking. Especially under a new pro-growth Pheu Thai government

However, demographic challenges in Thailand are heralding a new for change and liberalisation.

In short, Thailand is struggling to combat a disastrous decline in its birth rate and a rapidly ageing population. The Pheu Thai-led government is also seeking further economic opportunity.

Thailand in crisis as population declined by over 500k over the last four years according to the latest data
By 2074, Thailand’s population will fall to 30 million people even based on the current birth rate which is still falling

Thailand’s over 60s population constitute an increasing proportion of the total which is now falling. It has already climbed to over 20% and will reach 25% by 2030. The country’s population decline severely impacts its potential GDP output and society itself.

In response, the proposed changes to the surrogacy law seek to broaden access to assisted reproductive technologies. Among the proposed changes are provisions allowing women’s biological relatives aged 20-40 to donate eggs. The law will also permit women over 55 to engage as surrogate mothers.

The new initiative from the Pheu Thai-led government is a sea change. It comes as an about-face from the policy under General Prayut Chan Ocha’s more conservative governments. 

At the same time, it comes with a same-sex marriage law in parliament and a new gender identity law being pushed by the Prime Minister.

Law will be seen as part of the pro-LGBTQ agenda being pushed by the government and Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin. Latent political risks however exist

Politically, the involvement of three former key parties of General Prayut’s government should be watched. These are the Palang Pracharat Party, the Bhumjaithai Party and the United Thai Nation (Ruam Thai Sang Chart) Party.

On one hand, the new Pheu Thai-led initiatives are radical departures from traditional orthodoxy or Thai values.

However, on the other hand, even under General Prayut, the growing acceptance of the LGBTQ community in Thailand as a matter of basic human rights, had already begun.

As recently as 2022, in an agreement signed by Dr Arkhom, the Department of Health Service Support and the Department of Special Investigation agreed to jointly tackle the illicit reproductive industry.

Full steam ahead on LGBTQ rights in Thailand, new gender identity law ordered by the PM at cabinet

 The collaboration aimed to enhance coordination and information sharing. The plan was to combat criminal activities related to surrogacy and consequently human trafficking.

Despite the government’s new plans, attitudes in Thailand are still quite conservative.

Case of little baby girl Carmen in 2015 and 2016 was a landmark one for Thailand. The story highlighted both xenophobia and homophobia within Thai society

In 2016, there was considerable public disquiet when a foreign same-sex couple claimed a baby girl in court who was born to a Thai surrogate mother.

The case exposed suppressed xenophobia that still exists in Thailand as well as homophobia.  

The legal battle faced by the same-sex couple in Thailand was laid bare in a Thai court of law.

Gordon Lake and Manuel Santos encountered resistance from a surrogate mother after the child, a girl, was born. Eventually, the mother backed out of her agreement upon learning of the couple’s sexual orientation. The couple claimed she was aware of this all along.

The child was already in the hands of the gay couple at the time.

In the meantime, the Thai mother refused to cooperate with the paperwork required for it to leave the kingdom.

While their case ultimately ended in victory, it showcased the complexities and ethical dilemmas inherent in surrogacy arrangements. It also highlighted a significant resistance within Thai society towards providing such a service to foreigners.

Proposed new legal change is a paradigm shift for the kingdom. Yet it undoubtedly runs against the grain of powerful conservative and traditional values

As Thailand charts a new course in reproductive healthcare, the proposed new legal framework is a paradigm shift.

Surrogacy is now to be liberalised and opened up. Thailand aims to position itself as a global leader in fertility tourism.

Nevertheless, there is a political risk in this move. Certainly, it runs against the grain of highly conservative and traditional values in Thailand.

In 2016, Gordon Lake and Manuel Santos, a same-sex couple, triumphed in their legal battle against the Thai surrogate mother. Previously the woman sought to withhold their daughter, Carmen, upon discovering their sexual orientation.

The landmark case unfolded amidst a backdrop of legal complexities and ethical debates surrounding surrogacy in Thailand.

The couple’s ordeal began when their surrogate, Patidta Kusolsang, changed her mind.

Before that, she had entered a formal agreement to facilitate the birth of Carmen. Ms Patidta subsequently expressed discomfort over Lake and Santos’ status as a gay couple. 

New Thai surrogacy laws stifle gay couple’s attempts to claim daughter born to a Thai surrogate mother

Despite Carmen’s birth via surrogacy, Patidta refused to sign the necessary paperwork for the child to leave Thailand. One of the men, Gordon Lake, was the little girl’s biological father.

In turn, this prompted the protracted legal struggle.

Court triumph for the gay couple who were able to leave Thailand with their baby girl in 2016. The 2015 law put paid to any such activities above ground

The central juvenile and family court ultimately ruled in favour of Lake and Santos. It granted them legal custody of Carmen. This victory marked a significant milestone in the fight for LGBTQ+ parental rights. It underscored the importance of legal recognition and protection for diverse family structures.

Carmen’s conception, facilitated by an anonymous egg donor, exemplified the complexities of modern reproductive technologies. It also highlighted the evolving landscape of family formation causing a shock to many in the kingdom.

Thailand’s surrogacy industry had garnered international attention for its accessibility to gay couples at that time.

Nonetheless, the controversy surrounding ethical standards and legal frameworks prompted political and legal action. The industry was essentially prohibited by the draconian 2015 law.

2015 law was a populist response to public disquiet over news stories linking foreigners with children and Thai surrogate mothers. This was made illegal

In 2015, the Thai junta implemented its measure to regulate surrogacy. It forced any surrogacy involving foreigners underground.

In brief, the then government argued it was responding to concerns about exploitation and human trafficking within the industry.

The draconian Thai law in 2015 was aimed at stomping out illegality. At the same time, it was also a direct response to public disquiet over the phenomenon.

Certainly, it must also be admitted that public feeling was, at least, quickened by the case involving Lake and Santos. The story captured the public imagination in both a positive and negative fashion.

The new law was a similarly populist response.

The new regulatory regime, in particular, prohibited foreign couples from accessing surrogacy services in Thailand. Undoubtedly, it reflected the government’s conservative stance on reproductive rights and family law.

At the time, such views were openly expressed, and indeed applauded in Thailand’s unelected legislature.

Surrogacy is inextricably linked with LGBTQ rights

The junta’s traditionalist ethos clashed with evolving social attitudes and international norms regarding LGBTQ+ rights and assisted reproduction.

The issue worldwide has been linked to the progressive advancement of an LGBTQ lifestyle.

While Thailand’s surrogacy ban aimed to curb abuses, it also restricted access to vital reproductive services for diverse families. These, pointedly, included same-sex couples like Lake and Santos.

Against this backdrop, the couple’s legal victory underscored the resilience of LGBTQ+ families in navigating legal challenges and societal prejudices.

Despite facing resistance and scrutiny, Lake and Santos remained steadfast in their pursuit of parental rights and family unity.

Notably, Thailand’s shifting political landscape has since witnessed renewed debates over LGBTQ+ rights in progress. These include the new proposed reproductive freedoms under the current Pheu Thai-led government.

The planned amendments to surrogacy laws signal a potential liberalisation of reproductive policies. In short, it aligns with broader efforts to promote inclusivity and equality.

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Further reading:

Gay and LGBT people in Thailand on the verge of same sex partnership era with progressive reforms

Police probing murder-suicide theory after the bodies of two lesbian lovers were found at Pattaya hotel resort

Underworld surrogacy trade exposed, man arrested for smuggling semen from Thailand into Laos