Abandoned baby tests international laws of citizenship and parenthood

BY Anna Christiansen  August 4, 2014 at 5:08 PM EDT

Thai surrogate mother Pattaramon Chanbua (L) holds her baby Gammy, born with Down Syndrome, at the Samitivej hospital, Sriracha district in Chonburi province on August 4, 2014. Photo by Nicolas Asfouri/Getty Images

Thai surrogate mother Pattaramon Chanbua (L) holds her baby Gammy, born with Down Syndrome, at the Samitivej hospital, Sriracha district in Chonburi province on August 4, 2014. Photo by Nicolas Asfouri/Getty Images

A 7 month-old boy in Thailand is caught in the middle of an international battle over paternity and citizenship.

Australian immigration officials are weighing the case of Grammy, who was born via surrogacy in Thailand and was rejected by his biological parents. Grammy has down syndrome and a congenital heart defect, and is living with his 21 year-old surrogate mother in Thailand. His twin sister, born in good health, was brought back to Australia.

The case is drawing international attention because the Australian government considers Grammy a citizen. As a citizen, the boy is entitled to free healthcare in Australia, but it is unclear whether or not the nation has any jurisdiction over the boy’s case. The situation has sparked debate inside Australia about the practice of international surrogacy.

Grammy’s surrogate mother, Pattaramon Chanbua, is a food vendor in the small town of Sri Racha. She was promised $9,300 to carry the children but has not been paid in full. The young woman became aware of her baby’s medical status 2 months before giving birth. Chanbua told Agence France Presse she refused to abort the pregnancy because of her Buddhist faith, despite the urging of the commissioning agency. Abortion is illegal in Thailand. It is not currently clear whether birth defect based abortion was a stipulation in the surrogacy contract. Throughout the ordeal, Grammy’s biological parents have remained anonymous.

An Australian charity, Hands Across the Water, has raised about $200,000 for the baby’s medical costs in Thailand since July 22nd.

Scott Morrison, an Australian immigration officer, spoke to Sydney Radio 2GB on Monday and claimed that Chanbua “is an absolute hero” and “a saint.” He emphasized the “very, very murky” laws surrounding the case saying “We are taking a close look at what can be done here, but I wouldn’t want to raise any false hopes or expectations.” Grammy’s case is in Thailand’s jurisdiction, Morrison explained. However, he said, “the child may be eligible for Australian citizenship.”

Surrogacy for pay is banned in Australia, and a few states outlaw couples from going abroad to commission a child. In the United States, it is banned in New Mexico and regulated in other states.