Arrested man has made over 40 trips to Laos and Cambodia since Sept: officials.
AN ASSISTED Reproductive Technology (ART) clinic in Bangkok has denied any connection with the man who attempted to smuggle what is believed to be human sperm out of the country to another fertility clinic in Laos where surrogate pregnancies are not as strictly regulated as in Thailand.
Officials from the Health Service Support Department of the Thai Public Health Ministry yesterday inspected the premises of the unnamed ART clinic on Bangkok’s Phloenchit Road after it was cited by Nithinon Srithaniyanun, the courier, as one of the four clinics in Bangkok where he had picked up the sperm for delivery to another fertility clinic in the Laotian capital of Vientiane.
Nithinon was earlier arrested by authorities at the Thai-Laos Friendship Bridge checkpoint in the northeastern Thai province of Nong Khai where he attempted to smuggle six tubes of what is believed to be human sperm stored in a frozen |nitrogen tank into the neighbouring country.
Dr Thongchai Keeratihuttayakorn, deputy director-general of the Health Service Support Department, said the agency would take legal action against wrongdoers after contents in the frozen nitrogen tank carried by Nithinon are scientifically confirmed as human sperms, eggs and/or embryos.
Thongchai said the Thai fertility clinic had denied any connection with the courier and had given a copy of the clinic’s complaint filed with police against Nithinon to public health authorities. The clinic admitted the human sperm belonged to two of its clients from China and Vietnam who had authorised a person to pick up the sperm but the clinic has no knowledge of the courier and his delivery service, according to Thongchai.
Sarayuth Assamakorn, head of Superior ART Centre, said the Chinese and Vietnamese clients had properly obtained the sperm from the centre on April 17 and April 19 respectively by authorising a person to do so.
The foreign clients said they wanted to take the sperm to be used at another fertility clinic, which is the patients’ right, but they were informed in advance that taking sperm out of the country is not legal, according to Sarayuth.
Licences could be suspended
Thongchai said the courier is guilty under Thai law if the contents inside the frozen nitrogen tank are confirmed to be either sperm, eggs and/or embryos. Second, authorities will find out if there is an agency or intermediary to carry out transactions for these contents and, third, authorities will establish if any clinic is involved in these activities and transactions, and if they are they will be guilty under Thai law.
Professor Dr Prasit Wattanapa, president of Medical Council of Thailand, said if the contents are confirmed to be embryos, doctors who were involved would be guilty under Thai law and their licences could be suspended.
At this stage, the contents are believed to be the sperm of two persons, a Chinese and a Vietnamese. The contents are accompanied by certificates from medical institutes. According to the Thai law on assisted reproduction technology, sperms, eggs, and embryos cannot be traded, while violators and smugglers are subject to fines and imprisonment of up to 10 years. Thai customs officials said Nithinon had travelled from Thailand to Laos 20 times during July last year and February this year. In addition, he also travelled to Cambodia 24 times from September last year to April this year.
Meanwhile, Nong Khai’s public health office said it would follow up the case from the Customs Department to take action against smuggling networks for illegal trading in sperm, eggs and embryos. Laos does not have a strict law on assisted reproductive technology and surrogate pregnancies as in Thailand, so it is possible that the courier had been working for agents and clinics in Laos as well as Cambodia for ART medical services.
Meanwhile, reporters yesterday visited the fertility clinic in Vientiane where the Thai courier was supposed to deliver the contents from Thailand. It remained open to patients as normal. According to the Thai Customs Department, the courier was already fined Bt200,000 for smuggling human sperm out of Thailand. Customs deputy spokesman Kreecha Kirdsriphan said illegal exporters of human sperm could also face up to 10 years’ jail term. For customs, the legal case had been settled, but the public health officials would follow up on related offences.