With the government set to outlaw commercial surrogacy in upcoming legislation, a new survey suggests more Cambodians might be in favour of the fraught practice than previously thought.
Kasumi Nakagawa, a gender studies academic at Pannasastra University, surveyed 7,525 people, 640 of them monks, in Phnom Penh, and Ratanakkiri, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville provinces. She found opinion was divided on how to regulate commercial surrogacy, with 44 percent in favour of legalisation, 35 percent against and 21 percent unsure. The results come a month after the government signalled it would outlaw commercial surrogacy in a law due next year, though altruistic surrogacy is still on the table.
“Generally people’s view on women’s reproductive health is so restrictive . . . But when it comes to assisted reproductive health technology, people are more open,” Nakagawa said.
Those against surrogacy mainly found their reasons in health concerns or threats to women’s dignity and religion. However, less than half of monks surveyed disagreed with commercial surrogacy, with some even suggesting it helped people in need and aligned with Buddhist principles.
In large part due to TV dramas from Thailand and Korea, a slim majority of respondents (51 percent) already knew about some form of surrogacy before participating in the survey.
However, “the vast majority of those who have heard about surrogacy knew only traditional surrogacy”, in which the carrier of the foetus is also the biological mother. On the other hand, gestational surrogacy, in which the surrogate carries a foetus that has no genetic relation to her, “is unknown or even unimaginable to the majority of Cambodians due to lack of medical knowledge”, Nakagawa found.
A shock ban on surrogacy in the Kingdom was swiftly followed by the arrest of Australian nurse Tammy Davis-Charles and two Cambodian associates. The trio were sentenced to 18 months in prison last month.
The Justice Ministry and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, both heavily involved in drafting the law, did not respond to calls and emails yesterday or Sunday.
Interior Ministry anti-trafficking official Chou Bun Eng said the government had tried to account for public opinion but that decisions were left to experts. “The survey does not have an impact to our drafting of the law that commercial surrogacy is illegal,” she said. “Sometimes people who answer the questions don’t understand. We, the technical people, really know about the issue, we really care about the consequences for the children and women.”
Sam Everingham, of Australia-based Families Through Surrogacy, said the group had conducted a survey of community attitudes in Sweden and Norway.
“The majority of citizens of these countries were supportive of surrogacy, despite their governments not allowing it,” he said. “Certainly gauging social perceptions is an important element to take into account . . . Based on these results, the Cambodian government should consider allowing at least altruistic surrogacy with expense allowances to be legal.”
Nakagawa, however, took the view that because, in practice, the line between altruistic and commercial surrogacy can be blurred, both types should face the same legal fate. While her survey recommended legalisation, she said she understood the government’s intentions “to avoid exploitation of women through surrogacy arrangements”.
Additional reporting by Kong Meta