Belfast Telegraph

Baby Gammy's plight shows we must relax surrogacy laws here

By Jane Graham

I have no moral qualms about the principle of surrogacy.

Mostly, I'm in awe of the surrogate mother, a woman who volunteers to suffer physical pain, a constant, nagging fear of medical complications, multiple restrictions (on eating, drinking, travelling, beautifying) and an attack on her body, (stretch marks, thinning hair, a flattening nose, bigger feet, saggy stomach) without the anticipatory thrill of her own baby to cheer her on.

It's that excitement – composing lists of names, playing gender and hair-colour guessing games, dreaming of lulling your newborn to sleep with a Leonard Cohen lullaby – which keeps most mothers-to-be going through the fat ankles and sweat-soaked months.

Imagine, instead, that you're heaving your basketball belly and melon boobs on to a malodorous bus-throng with only the thought of handing the baby you're carrying onto another happy couple to maintain your dampened spirits.

In the vast majority of cases in the UK, that's how it works. Surrogacy – which it is illegal here to charge for – is an act of generosity and selflessness, born of an urge to do a good thing. These women are heroes.

This week we saw an example of what looks, thus far, like the worst surrogacy outcome imaginable. An Australian couple paid a debt-stricken 21-year-old Thai woman $16,000 (£9,500) to be the surrogate mother of their genetic child.

When they discovered Pattharamon Janbuas was pregnant with twins, one of which had Down's Syndrome and a congenital heart condition, they allegedly asked her to have an abortion. When she refused, and gave birth to the twins, they took home the healthy child and left the other, now known worldwide as Gammy, behind.

The details of the story remain murky, with the Australian couple insisting they didn't know of Gammy's existence. But it's clear something went very wrong here and the result was a travesty and a grotesque implication regarding the lesser 'value' of disabled children.

Commentators are also using this highly unusual case as a weapon against the idea of surrogacy itself, suggesting it shows that it's not safe – or even 'right' – to 'mess with nature' and 'hire' a womb to carry your baby.

This is nonsense. Anything involving human beings can go wrong, but in most cases, surrogacy is the right choice for couples who've been struck, randomly and unfairly, by illness or infertility, while their desperation to make a family has grown.

No one in the UK gets rich by being a surrogate – only expenses are paid – but judging by the testimonies I've read, many people have been infinitely rewarded by the process.

It is increasingly usual to explain the story to the child as early as possible to avoid a sudden shock in later life. But once a parent is handed his/her baby, the bonding process begins in earnest. And there is no research in the world to suggest that baby doesn't receive all the love and support any 'naturally birthed' child would.

What the Gammy story suggests to me is that restrictions on surrogacy in the UK should actually be relaxed, so that fewer couples go abroad, where big fees can be commanded by unscrupulous baby-sellers.

Within a tight legal framework, why can't surrogate mothers advertise, or agencies help couples find potential surrogates? This presents huge hurdles for aspiring parents trying to locate willing helpers.

Why doesn't the law recognise the genetic parents, preferring instead to only acknowledge the less-invested carrier? Why aren't nursing mums with babies born of surrogates entitled to maternity leave?

We should do what we can to ease the process for both sets of mothers-to-be and bring more wanted babies into grateful families.

He'd be a Pratt to lose cuddly charm

The transformation of Chris Pratt from sitcom Parks & Recreation's beardy beer-bellied sofa slob Andy into Guardian of the Galaxy's buff action hero Star Lord is extraordinary.

I'm not surprised Pratt is now paraded as a sex symbol, but, for me, he's lost some of his charm.

A body as muscle-bound and fat-free as his currently is, must be worked on constantly and suggests fanaticism, narcissism and a lack of humour.

Thankfully, it's just for an acting role and Star Lord is as warm, funny and loveable as Andy ever was.

I just hope Pratt isn't tempted to maintain the gym slave look.

Computer research is a game-changer

New research based on a hefty 5,000-strong sample says that kids who play computer games for up to an hour a day are likely to be the happiest, best-adjusted of children, giving the lie to the popular notion that evil computer screens are melting our children's brains and turning them into lobotomised zombies.

In spite of a plethora of 'intuitive' arguments devised, surely, by sniffy perfect parents jogging around on moral high horses trying to make normal folk feel guilty, I've watched my kids' imagination, creativity and puzzle-solving skills soar after playing Minecraft, making iPad movies and reading interactive game books.

Which now makes me an officially good mum.

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