Down Syndrome, Surrogacy, and Abortion: Remember What Went Right

A building created on an uneven foundation is bound to suffer, is it not?  So to discuss the problem, do we lament the building for not being strong enough, or do we recognize the flawed foundation?

Simplistic example, I know, but stay with me.

An Australian couple hired a Thai surrogate. They had twins. After finding out that one of the twins had Down syndrome, the surrogate refused to abort.  The couple left the baby with Down syndrome in Thailand.  The surrogate and her family were unable to pay for the baby’s heart surgery, and the Australian couple has done nothing to support their son, who is now called baby Gammy in the media. I think most agree that something went terribly wrong here.  (You can Google “baby Gammy” and read about the story yourself.)

I understand why this story is about abortion for so many people in the Down syndrome community.  I don’t like the fact that a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome so often comes hand in hand with the choice to abort.  Too much of that conversation feels like eugenics to me.  Despite that it is a worthy topic, this story is not about abortion for me.  In fact, I’m wary of having the pro-life/pro-choice/anti-choice/pro-death debates use this story, Down syndrome, and disability to obscure other very important issues.

You see, in this story, no abortion actually happened.  Abortion was introduced, and resisted.  In fact, a woman exercised control over her own body to continue her pregnancy.  Right now, as I’m writing this post, the nonprofit Hands Across the Water has ensured baby Gammy’s immediate medical needs are covered and is also creating a trust that will fund his long term care.  The surrogate seems very loving and clearly values baby Gammy from her statements in this article, which is more than could be said for the Australian couple.  If pro-life and pro-choice advocates can’t agree that this is one decent thing that happened in a terrible situation, then I’m at a loss.

I can’t help but bemoan what isn’t  being acknowledged and discussed.  What went wrong for baby Gammy is so much deeper than how many chromosomes he has.  Before the surrogate was asked to have an abortion.  Before he was even conceived in that test tube, I think the set up had been rigged.

Why aren’t we, the Down syndrome community, also acknowledging what is happening to women’s bodies in response to poverty in our increasingly global economy?  Many countries, including Australia, have recognized that commercial surrogacy is an ethical quagmire.  In and of itself, I don’t think surrogacy is wrong.  It is, after all, the only way that some couples can have children.  The context, however, is that a richer nation made its own ethical boundaries (outlawing commercial surrogacy), yet sends its money into a poorer nation to use the poorer nation’s women’s reproductive abilities. That makes it wrong to me.  Tragedy is inevitable there, is it not?  No building can stand on such a foundation; something will inevitably go very wrong.

Buying a body is one step away from controlling what it does, and another step away from abandoning what comes out of it.  Putting monetary value on a human being’s body can too easily lead to it—or what comes out of it—being devalued.

Overall, I think it is more valuable to look at what went right.  Without downplaying what the Australian couple did, I am actually heartened by not only the courageous decision of the surrogate mother, but also the outpouring of support once the media spread baby Gammy’s story.

Still, he’s very ill from not getting timely medical attention and needs support.  We can donate to baby Gammy’s trust to ensure that his needs are not forgotten after his story fades from the media.  After that, I’d love to discuss the entirety of this story, because advocating for people with Down syndrome cannot simply be about abortion.  Our community’s interests and needs are part of a complex web, let’s not forget that.

Donate money here.

Updates from Hands Across the Water are here.

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11 Comments on “Down Syndrome, Surrogacy, and Abortion: Remember What Went Right”

  1. vandeblogger says:

    Excellent thoughts.

  2. Galit says:

    Eloquently put, as always!

  3. Lori says:

    Precisely! Thanks so much for bringing this issue to light.

    I’m am so glad you’re back.

  4. leticia says:

    The problem with this story is that there are so many controversial issues happening at the same time and so much to be outraged at that it gives so much ground for people to pick holes in others arguments. The fact that the waters are so murky on the issues around surrogacy and termination and Down syndrome and parental responsibilities here it means that people are not listening to the individual points being raised anymore. What felt like a good opportunity to discuss some really important issues is rapidly diminishing because the story gets more outrageous every day. Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t still try though hey? Glad you discussed the surrogacy. It’s just so sad.
    Thank goodness you are back!

    • jisun says:

      Oh my goodness, have you seen the stories that came out this morning? I think the “outrageous story” meter just went through the roof. Sigh. We tried.

      • leticia says:

        Yep. Unfortunately all the points we have raised continue to be relevant as we have all been saying them for years but the ridiculousness of the story will diminish that in the public eye. Have you read the comments on my post? It’s exhausting….

  5. Lisa says:

    I completely agree. If we are going to advocate for not aborting babies – Down syndrome or not – then we must be willing to advocate for all children – regardless of ability/disability, color, or gender – to be able to live full, healthy lives. That means putting our money where our mouths are.


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