Centre for Health, Technologies and Social Practice

Upcoming seminar by Andrea Whittaker: The rise and fall of commercial surrogacy in Thailand (Friday 5th Feb, 12-1, Social Sciences Building)

Andrea Whittaker will be speaking at the next Thesp seminar on Friday 5th February 2015, 12-1 in the Social Sciences Building (room 11.12).

The rise and fall of commercial surrogacy in Thailand

Intimate processes of conception and reproduction have become increasingly global in expectation and practice. They have become the focus for global commercialized reproductive trade, often termed ‘reproductive tourism’ whereby people travel to seek reproductive health services in other countries. Such cross border mobility can involve the movement of patients, but also of service providers, ova donors and surrogates, as well as ova or embryos. In this presentation I reflect upon the rise and fall of the market in Thailand for commercial gestational surrogacy. Following the Indian banning of commercial surrogacy for gay couples, Thailand became popular as a destination for couples seeking the availability of surrogates and ova donors, particularly Australians. I start with an overview of embodied capitalism in Thailand noting the continuities between the growth of the ‘clinical labor’ of surrogacy and other forms of intimate labour involving women’s bodies and the development of a regional hub for surrogacy. I then describe the fall of commercial surrogacy, from revelations of the trafficking of women for reproductive services, the ‘Baby Gammy’ case and multiple surrogacies to a Japanese man among others, and the subsequent public shaming of the Thai government and introduction of legislation banning commercial surrogacy in 2015. The rapid movement of the trade to new locations demonstrates the flexible, mobile and opportunistic capitalist market for surrogacy. The social and medical realities in many parts of the region compromise attempts at regulation of the trade.

Associate Professor Andrea Whittaker is ARC Future Fellow and Convenor of Anthropology at the School of Social Sciences, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia.   She is a medical anthropologist working primarily in the fields of reproductive health and biotechnologies with a special interest on Thailand and SE Asia and is a Visiting Fellow until February with ReproSoc at the Department of Sociology. Her Australian Research Council Future Fellowship studies the reproductive travel in Thailand and the region for sex selection and surrogacy. In addition, she is currently undertaking collaborative research on contraceptive use among migrant women in Melbourne through an ARC Linkage project and is part of another ARC Linkage project working on a longitudinal qualitative study of people living with HIV in rural and regional Queensland. Her major publications include Intimate Knowledge: Women and their Health in Northeast Thailand (2000), Women’s Health in Mainland South-east Asia ed. (2002), Abortion, Sin and the State in Thailand (2004) and Abortion in Asia: Local dilemmas, global politics ed. (2010). Her most recent work is Thai in vitro: Assisted reproduction in Thailand (2015).

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