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A surrogate mother photographed earlier this year in Kampong Speu province.
A surrogate mother photographed earlier this year in Kampong Speu province. Heng Chivoan

Ministry considering altruistic surrogacy

The Ministry of Women’s Affairs is considering legalising altruistic surrogacy in Cambodia, but yesterday reaffirmed it would completely outlaw the commercial industry.

However, observers yesterday warned of a potential minefield surrounding altruistic surrogacy, in which a surrogate mother, in theory, is not paid beyond the cost of her necessary health care.

Ministry of Women’s Affairs spokesman Phon Puthborey said he expected feedback on the first draft of a new surrogacy law to be returned by the end of the month, with input from the ministries of social affairs, foreign affairs, justice and health.

“Commercial surrogacy is going to be banned completely, but we are now looking at the possibility of whether altruistic surrogacy should be legal,” he said. “We want the law to protect the best interests of the women who are vulnerable.”

But Sam Everingham, of Australian-based Families Through Surrogacy, said that the line between “commercial” and “altruistic” was often blurred in practice.

“The distinctions between commercial and altruistic surrogacy in a number of countries is not significant. Altruistic surrogacy is simply a more palatable social policy,” he said in an email.

“Evidence from countries such as Greece, Canada and [the] UK shows that even where such laws are introduced, expense payments do in fact approach what are deemed ‘commercial’ payments in other countries.”

Everingham stressed that “generous reimbursement” was required to properly compensate surrogates who fulfil a physically and emotionally demanding role, and said legislation should require screening and counselling to ensure motives were genuine on all sides.

“We have seen evidence in places like Australia that where rules on payments are too tight, surrogates can [be] left exploited and out-of-pocket,” he said.

Still, Justice Ministry spokesman Chin Malin said he foresaw “less risk” in altruistic surrogacy.

“I am more pro than con to altruistic surrogacy because it seems like [the parties] would know each other,” he said. “But no matter what, we need to think about the mechanism to protect them, because knowing each other well is no guarantee.”

Gender and Development for Cambodia spokeswoman Ros Sopheap said she thought it was “too early” for Cambodia to legalise altruistic surrogacy.

“Maybe in the future, when Cambodia has more equal education between poor and rich,” she said.

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