Ghost hunting in Thailand: Why didn't surrogate abort?

Picture: Detail from "Views of a Foetus in the Womb," a drawing by Leonardo da Vinci. Public domain via Wikimedia.    
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Picture: Detail from "Views of a Foetus in the Womb," a drawing by Leonardo da Vinci. Public domain via Wikimedia.

A surrogate mother bears fraternal twins, one of them with Down's syndrome. She carries the child to term "on religious grounds," in defiance of the parents' order to abort him. So they take the non-Down's child, leaving the other with her.

Prime soap material, you'll no doubt agree. But for GetReligion folks, this Reuters article out of Thailand fairly shouts something else: "Ghost Story!"

 But we ain't 'fraid o' no ghosts. Let's take a closer look:

Pattaramon Janbua said her doctors, the surrogacy agency and the baby's parents knew he was disabled at four months but did not inform her until the seventh month when the agency asked her - at the parents' request - to abort the disabled fetus.
Pattaramon, 21, told Reuters Television she refused the abortion on religious grounds and carried both him and his twin sister to term six months ago. The parents, who have not been identified, took only the girl back with them to Australia.

OK, ghost hunting time. On what religious grounds did Pattaramon Janbua refuse to abort Gammy? The beliefs of Theravada, the main form of Buddhism in Thailand?

The three reporters, one writer and one editor who produced this 500-word story never got around to that. They were too busy talking about how much Pattaramon was paid (the equivalent of $10,900), how she was going to support the child (the parents paid her to keep Gammy), and what laws in Thailand cover surrogate (none, and all legislation has been "paralyzed since December, when parliament was suspended by then Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.")

 Not that other media reports were much more religion literate.  

The  Irish Times story is full of quotes by Pattaramon on how she forgave the parents. But the article didn't mention religion or any other motivation for bearing the child.

 The Daily Mail, in its customary cut-and-paste style, ran a long piece glued from several reports. The religion angle? "Ms Chanbua is a Buddhist and thinks abortion is a 'sin'."  

The Mercury in southern Australia praises Pattaramon Janbua's courage and, like other media, tells how an Australian fund drive has raised more than $100,000 for Gammy's lung infection. Why didn't she abort him? "She refused because of her Buddhist beliefs." Period.

 The Sydney Morning Herald  has a lot on the Thai government cracking down on surrogacies and on  in vitro fertilization that enables gender selection of an embryo. But it also adds this:

Four months into the pregnancy, doctors doing routine checks discovered one of the babies had Down syndrome. They told the Australian parents, who said they did not want to take the boy, according to a source familiar with the case.
"They told me to have an abortion but I didn't agree because I am afraid of sin," Ms Pattharamon says, referring to her Buddhist beliefs.

Exactly which Buddhist beliefs? Those don’t seem to matter much to anyone -- except to Pattaramon and her adopted son. To them, it's literally a matter of life and death. Why not ask?

 And if an interview was too much effort, how about the Web? The BBC has a sizable article on Buddhism and abortion.  It notes that Japanese and western Buddhists permit the practice, but "Traditional Buddhism rejects abortion because it involves the deliberate destroying of a life."

 BBC even discusses the karmic penalty -- for the unborn child as well as those who aborted it:

While it's pretty obvious why abortion is considered to generate bad karma for the mother and the abortionist it may not be so obvious why it generates bad karma for the foetus.
The foetus suffers bad karma because its soul is deprived of the opportunities that an earthly existence would have given it to earn good karma, and is returned immediately to the cycle of birth, death and rebirth. Thus abortion hinders its spiritual progress.

However, Buddhism still seems to leave the choice to the individual:

Buddhists are expected to take full personal responsibility for everything they do and for the consequences that follow.
The decision to abort is therefore a highly personal one, and one that requires careful and compassionate exploration of the ethical issues involved, and a willingness to carry the burden of whatever happens as a result of the decision.

The media could have also looked up Buddhist beliefs on forgiveness, after hearing Pattaramon Janbua say that she forgave the parents for abandoning Gammy. Places like  Buddhanet have interesting things to say about dukkha, translated as stress or suffering:

Think of any one person, or any situation, or any group of people whom you are condemning, blaming, disliking. Forgive them, completely. Let your forgiveness be your expression of unconditional love. They may not do the right things. Human beings have dukkha. And your heart needs the forgiveness in order to have purity of love.
Have a look again and see whether there's anyone or anything, any where in the world, towards whom you have blame or condemnation. And forgive the people or the person, so that there is no separation your heart.
Now put your attention back on yourself. And recognize the goodness in you. The effort you are making. Feel the warmth and ease that comes from forgiveness.

It adds something, don't you think? I'm sure Reuters reporters could have looked that up, too. Spirits don’t go away just because you try to ignore them.

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