The story almost reads like a fairy tale: no sooner had the child been born than it was taken from its mother and whisked to a land far, far away.
Except that in this case, the infant was flown as hand-carried baggage from Manila to Bangkok, swaddled in the arms of a Danish man who had bought and prepaid for the baby boy.
Far from being a tale of enchantment, what took place seven months ago in October was the first ever commercially transacted case of surrogacy in the Philippines. It was arranged by a foreign company between a Filipino married woman and a male gay couple from Malaysia and Denmark.
“The egg is actually her own,” Michael Ho, owner of Singapore-based Asian Surrogates, told Newsbreak. He said the woman, whom he declined to name, became pregnant in a “pretty straight forward” manner – through intrauterine insemination or IUI.
“The sperm is inserted into the womb of the surrogate and she gets pregnant, (with) no physical contact” with the male client, he assured.
Because the client “donated” his own sperm, he is the baby boy's legitimate father and therefore has the legal right to take the infant out of the country, he said. The mother's prior consent is part of the transaction, he added.
“The father took him back to Thailand because even though he's Danish, he was working in Thailand,” he said.
He said the gay couple paid Asian Surrogates at least 45,000 Singapore dollars or P1.4 million pesos for the service. Of this amount, roughly P715,074 or 22,000 Singapore dollars went to the Filipina for renting out her womb and providing her eggs. The sum would roughly take her 5.4 years to earn on minimum wage.
Eight other Filipino women are eagerly waiting in line to provide a similar service, Ho said, expressing his satisfaction.
“I have to say, the Filipinas, they are all very helpful, very enthusiastic. I find the Filipina excellent as a surrogate mother.”
However, they all appeared to be media shy since all refused to be interviewed for this article.
The transaction went unnoticed in the Philippines. Social welfare Secretary Esperanza Cabral said in an interview that she was not aware that commercial surrogacy was being practiced in the country. Even if it was, she said there was no law to ban it.
Ho's company has been operating for four years now as a womb-service provider and claims to have clients in 15 countries including the Philippines, Canada, US, France, Belgium and Germany.
As a womb service-provider, Asian Surrogates is pretty up front with its array of services and fees.
It claims to handpick surrogates. They have to be non-smokers, non-drinkers, bright, healthy and attractive, below 30 but married or with a partner, and a tested baby-maker with at least one child born the natural way.
Unlike similar companies in India which advertise their surrogates are at least five foot three inches tall, Ho's company imposes no height requirement.
However, he stresses that his girls “do not change their minds, (are) reliable, caring and ethical,” meaning, they “do not keep a couple's baby for their own gain.”
The straightforward transaction discards any notion of romantic love or lust between the surrogate and her male client. Still, Ho believes love motivates his handpicked girls: They “want to help their own families with the fees they earned” and their husbands, partners or families understand and support this.
His company arranges both the “traditional” and “gestational” forms of surrogacy. The first method is illustrated by the Danish national's case, where his sperm was mixed with the surrogate's own eggs through artificial insemination.
The “gestational” method is harder, riskier and costlier. Here, the surrogate merely acts as the host. Eggs from another woman are mixed with sperm in a laboratory using a process called in vitro fertilization. The resulting embryo – popularly known as a “test tube baby” - is then planted inside the surrogate's womb.
The traditional or natural surrogacy, if done in Manila, costs at least 45,000 Singapore dollars (US$30,380.80). This is easily thrice more expensive than in India, but far cheaper than in the United States.
Der Spiegel magazine, in a September 25, 2008 piece called “The Life Factory”, estimated that commercial surrogacy in India costs US$10,000, and between US$50,000 to US$80,000 in the US. (See https://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,580209-3,00.html)
Costs in Manila could go up, though, in case of medical complications such as the “loss of reproductive organ.”
Ho's company justifies its price. This includes the surrogate's fee, her clothing allowance, food, housing, travel, insurance, medical bills and loss of wages. It also includes chauffeuring the client parents around and housing them.
Looking at the lengthy menu of its services, the firm is in effect practicing medical tourism in the Philippines.
The fee is paid in six gives, with an initial down payment of 5,000 Singapore dollars upon signing the surrogacy agreement. By the third month of pregnancy, two-thirds would have been paid up.
The company makes no mention what would happen to the baby in case the client fails to pay all.
Ho has a separate company, Ivimed, that buys from egg donors at 6,000 Singapore dollars per retrieval. The fee is higher if the donor has a doctorate or a special talent like in music or math.
A client pays 13,500 Singapore dollars for the egg harvesting and other expenses such as egg donor screening, travel, housing and food. Ivimed claims the harvesting won't hurt, “though some pelvic heaviness, soreness or cramps are common.” Interestingly, the company provides a 250,000 Singapore dollars insurance “in case of medical emergency.”
Ho told Newsbreak that the harvested unused eggs “are frozen in a doctor's clinic, either here (in Singapore) or in Malaysia.”
“The eggs belong to the girls,” not to his firm. “We take care of our girls, don't worry,” he said.