Do Australian Couple Wendy and David Farnell Deserve Custody?

467569-770db912-20f9-11e4-b035-3276a1bc3645The world has been struck by a global incident involving Australian couple Wendy and David Farnell, a Thai surrogate Pattaramon Chanbua, and a pair of fraternal twins who were separated at birth. Surrogacy alone raises controversy in various nations, and this is not a matter of whose story is true. This is about what is morally right; what is humane, and what is in the best interest of the children based on law and medically supported evidence. There were loose legalities concerning differing nations, there were intents of abortion, past convictions of sexual assault on children, and overwhelming debatable information that contradicts whether the resulting children will be in good welfare. The prior research, decisions, and actions taken by the couple did not seem to be done with high regard. Therefore, it is very questionable if they will continue this lack of good judgment in taking care of one, if not, two children. With the aforementioned evidence, the Farnells should not be allowed to have custody of their twin children.

In Australia, there are actually three states that ban surrogacy altogether: the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales and Queensland. Australia allows altruistic surrogacy as the only form of legal surrogacy. There must not be any financial benefit involved (with the exception of reimbursement for losses and expenses) and the surrogate needs to be a volunteer doing the task out of her own good will. According to the Northern Territory Government of Australia, “It is judged that commercial surrogacy commodifies the child and the surrogate mother, and risks the exploitation of poor families for the benefit of rich ones.” In Thailand, surrogacy laws are unregulated. Coincidentally, the Farnells sought commercial surrogacy from a 21-year-old woman in Thailand.

From Bunbury in Western Australia, the Farnells had made the decision of paying $15,000 to a surrogate in Thailand to fulfill their desires of having children together. The average cost in the United States and Australia is between $50,000 and $150,000. As a result of the surrogacy, Pattaramon gave birth to two children: a baby girl named Pipah and her twin brother, Gammy. Initially planning for twins, the couple only took their daughter back home to Australia, while Gammy remains in Thailand with multiple health complications. This led Pattaramon to claim that the Farnells “did not want seven-month-old baby Gammy when they found he had Down syndrome.” The parents deny such allegations and claim they left Gammy in Thailand “because they were told he was going to die.” However Miss Chanbua says they refused to even look at him when he was born, and demanded she get an abortion prior to his birth. After all the public commotion, the Farnells now want Gammy back. During an interview on 60 Minutes, David claimed that it’s “been very stressing. We miss our little boy. I come home from work some days and Wendy has dressed our little girl (Gammy’s twin sister Pipah) all in blue because she wants to remember the little boy.” These proceedings have been the catalyst to a series of events that have gained global recognition and controversy that questions the Farnells’ rights to the children.

It is evident that Australian and Thai interpretations of surrogacy laws are not clear to one another. According to the Australian Embassy, there are “currently no laws governing surrogacy arrangements in Thailand.” However, the refuting Thai law “stipulates that the surrogate mother must be a blood relative of one of the biological parents.” Additionally, commercial surrogacy is prohibited by the Medical Council of Thailand’s code of conduct. Doctor Boonruang Triruangworawat, head of the Department of Health Service Support in Thailand, confirmed that “The woman who was pregnant was not a relative of the couple and also [the surrogate mother] received money for being pregnant. This violated the regulations of Thailand’s Medical Council.” Auspiciously, surrogacy laws in Thailand have remained unregulated. It conveys many questions as to why the Farnells chose to use a surrogate in Thailand, and took the actions they did. Additionally, they admitted to doing little research in Thai surrogacy laws and had chosen Thailand because “the people were kind and the hospitals looked ‘clean’.” What the Farnells did was illegal in Australia, and violated Thailand’s Medical Council regulations. Logically, the surrogacy should have been annulled.

Four months into Pattaramon’s pregnancy, she and the Farnells were informed that Gammy was tested positive for Down’s syndrome. In the interview on 60 Minutes, the couple confessed that they did not want a child with a disability. Consequently, there is still no evidence of whether the Farnells did any extensive research on Down’s syndrome before they concluded “we probably would have terminated it, because he has a handicap and this is a sad thing.” Nowhere in the interview did either of the Farnells ever mention the risks of multi-fetal pregnancy reduction (MFPR) when talking about aborting Gammy. MFPR can sometimes lead to miscarriage of the remaining fetus, preterm labor, or infection. Thus, disregarding what would have happened to Pipah because they did not want Gammy. In the same interview, when David Farnell learned of Gammy’s condition, he demanded the Thai surrogate agency “give us back our money, this is your fault.” With this type of information, one could agree with Alan Stokes’ comment that the “Farnells regard money as more important than children.” The Farnells’ actions, decisions, and minimal concern for the twins before and during the surrogacy process does not seem to morally support their right to have custody of the children. “They think a disability is something to be rejected when it doesn’t fit their life plan.” – Alan Stokes

The National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS) states that “Down syndrome occurs when an individual has a full or partial extra copy of chromosome 21.” Those who fall victim to Down’s syndrome have an increased risk of medical complications like congenital heart defects or thyroid condition. These are treatable conditions whereas many people who have Down’s syndrome still lead a healthy life. In fact, the NDSS reports that “life expectancy for people with Down syndrome has increased dramatically in recent decades – from 25 in 1983 to 60 today.” Additionally, the Global Down Syndrome Foundation reported “The oldest person on record who had Down syndrome died at the age of 80 in 2008.” So it seems that the Farnells were willing to rob Gammy between 60 to 80 years of his precious life because he was going to be “handicap.” During the Farnells’ interview on 60 Minutes, they were asked on how many times they’ve called to see how their little boy is: David: “We haven’t.” And on whether they contacted the Australian Embassy to ask about bringing Gammy home: David: “No.” In consideration of their own disabled son, it’s as if there is very little empathy apparent in the Farnells. Hence, a lack of confidence to Pipah’s safety and well-being.

After hearing alleged reports, Pattaramon had affirmed her desire for custody of Pipah due to David Farnell’s past child sex-abuse charges against him. This was later confirmed by a West Australian Judge O’Sullivan who said that “David Farnell was convicted of 15 charges of indecently dealing with two girls and was jailed for three years.” As if this wasn’t enough, he was convicted a second time by Judge Gunning, for “four counts of indecently dealing with a child under the age of 13 while he was at his parents’ house and sentenced to a further 18 months in jail.” Even Australian media has been doing some name-calling such that “the 56-year-old biological father is a convicted paedophile who served two prison sentences for molesting young girls.” This is an indication for grave concern about the safety of baby girl Pipah living in the hands of a pedophile. David Farnell actually contested his past during the 60 Minutes interview, stating that his attraction to young girls have “100 percent stopped. I don’t have the urge to do anything anymore.” However, psychologist Moss Aubrey, Ph.D. who does private assessment of male sex offenders reported to the American Psychological Association that sex offenders are “highly predatory, highly psychopathic and have repeated offenses, making them more likely to re-offend.” It is understandable that sex offenders can go through counseling after an incident of being guilty of committing sexual abuse. However, like Dr. Aubrey stated, repeated offenders are more likely to re-offend. David Farnell was convicted of multiple charges, multiple times and they occurred over ten years apart. Additionally, these were only convictions he got caught for. According to the Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs, “Most child molesters are able to molest dozens of children before they are caught and have a three percent (3%) chance of being apprehended for their crimes.”

Family of the Farnells do speak up nonetheless. David’s son (who wished not to be named) claimed that his father was “amazing. He’s brought the best out of all of us kids.” However, with David Farnell’s convictions, all of his victims were young girls. Therefore, David’s son would have no experience with his father’s dark intentions because his father may have not been attracted to young boys. This then makes the son’s claim just another opinion that the public may or may not side with. Another gray area too cloudy to make a good decision as to whether the Farnells are fit for duty as parents.

The past and present decisions of the Farnells’ actions cannot go with support from the majority of morally sound citizens. Thai laws are now changing with proposed drafts to protect future children who may fall victim to similar situations because of this single incident. Rarinthip Sirorat, an executive from the Social Development and Human Security Ministry in Thailand, said at a news conference “Now is good timing, as the steps (toward passing the law) have been completed.” New laws will prohibit commercial surrogacy and those violating the law will “face up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to 200,000 baht ($6,200). Agencies, advertisers or recruiters of surrogate mothers will face up to five years in jail and a fine of up to 100,000 baht ($3,100).” It is obvious that what the Farnells did was wrong and in light of that, they do not deserve custody. Especially because the purpose of the law is to “give maximum benefits to the surrogate babies;” not the parents. A choice cannot be made in good conscience to leave a pedophile in possession of a little girl or disabled boy; both of which he has shown little compassion for in previous events. As a couple, the Farnells’ judgment and moral compass is too questionable and investigating the truth of that will take quite some time.

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