Australian mother, father in Down syndrome surrogate case defend themselves in TV interview


Thai surrogate mother Pattaramon Chanbua, a 21-year-old food vendor, poses with Gammy. (Apichart Weerawong/AP)

An Australian television interview with a couple accused of abandoning their son, who has Down syndrome, has done little to clarify the sad, increasingly unwieldy story.  Wendy and David Farnell spoke to Australia’s “60 Minutes” following an international media firestorm centering around the astonishing story from surrogate mother Pattaramon Chanbua.

Both Pattaramon and the Farnells have seemingly contradicted themselves in several statements to the media, making it hard to tell where the story stands. At this point, we do know that the Farnells hired Pattaramon, a resident of Thailand, through an international agency to carry a child for them after several years of failing to conceive. We know that 7-month-old Gammy, who has Down’s syndrome, lives with Pattaramon, and his twin sister Pipah lives with the couple in Australia.

And we know that David Farnell served time on sex offender convictions for having inappropriate contact with multiple young girls in the 1990s.

In the “60 Minutes” interview, the Farnells strongly denied “abandoning” their son, as Pattaramon had claimed, into the care of his surrogate mother. Instead, the couple claims that the surrogate refused to give over Gammy into their care, and that they left for Australia out of fear that Pattaramon would try to take both children.

That denial prompted the Associated Press to reach out to Pattaramon for a statement. She gave one, which seems to contradict her initial accusation: “I did not allow Gammy to go back with them — that’s the truth. … It is because they would have taken Gammy back and put him in an institute,” she said.

But the Farnells’ denial is itself the second version of the story from the couple. Initially, the Australians denied any knowledge of Gammy at all, telling the media that the doctor at the Thai clinic where the twins were born only told the couple about their healthy baby girl.

In Pattaramon’s original version of events, the surrogate was told by the agency late in the pregnancy that she should abort the fetus with Down syndrome, a request that, again, the Farnells deny making. However, the couple told “60 Minutes” that they would have asked for a pregnancy termination had the agency tested the child for the disorder early enough. In the end, they said, the couple initially agreed to an offer Pattaramon made during pregnancy to keep Gammy. But after his birth, the couple changed their minds and wanted to take both children home. That’s when Pattaramon refused to give the child into their care, they said.

However, the couple admitted that they haven’t checked in on Gammy’s welfare since leaving, nor have they contacted Australian authorities to try to get the child back.

In Australia, that version of events fell flat among viewers of “60 Minutes.”

In the interview, David Farnell also addressed his past as a sex offender:

“I don’t have any thoughts about this at all. That is 100% the truth. I cannot do this again. I can’t do this. I know that I do not have any urges at all of this nature. For 30 years I’ve known this. I don’t have any urges.”

The revelation of Farnell’s convictions prompted Pattaramon to say that she wants to take Gammy’s sister back to Thailand, too.

Abby Ohlheiser is a general assignment reporter for The Washington Post.
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