When a couple seeking to adopt a white baby is charged $35,000 and a couple seeking a black baby is charged $4,000, the image that comes to the Rev. Ken Hutcherson's mind is of a practice that was outlawed in America nearly 150 years ago — the buying and selling of human beings.
My reaction to the moral objection about prices: Would you prefer that babies be seen as worth nothing? Or do you want to force people to pay much higher prices?
My more practical reaction: A measly $35k? The white baby price is still far less than the $50,000 price which some Stanford student donor eggs fetch. The donor eggs of elite school students have much higher chances of resulting in higher IQ babies.
But the prices for the babies and for the high IQ donor eggs looked at together suggest another interesting possibility for the future: Genetically engineered babies created by women who plan to sell them once the babies are born.
Think about why the Stanford and Harvard undergrad women can command such high prices for their eggs as compared to the prices for babies. First off, a lot of women who can't produce viable eggs from their own ovaries still want the experience of pregnancy and birth. Also, a couple where the woman can't produce viable eggs still typically wants to use the husband's sperm. So those factors put limits on the demand for fully developed babies.
But another limit on the demand for babies (and it is a reason you'll rarely see publically expressed) is the widely but privately held opinion (gotta watch out for the commissars) that women who are getting pregnant out of wedlock and who want to give up their babies for adoption are lower class, lower IQ, and lower quality in other ways that are at least partially genetic in origin. However, shift ahead 15 or 20 years to when DNA testing is cheap and very comprehensive in what it can reveal. Shift ahead perhaps even further to when egg, sperm, and embryo genetic engineering is practical. The ability to modify the genes of the embryo will enable even lower class women to give birth to babies that have high intelligence, great looks, great health, and assorted desired personality traits.
Biotechnology will enable the production of more customized products. The ability to basically sell a more customized product will raise demand and market prices. This will allow some women to make money producing and selling babies.
Even before embryo genetic engineering becomes possible the market for adoptive babies will go through a big shift as a result of biotechnological advances. In particular, cheap genetic testing will cause a big differentiation of the market. Babies which today are indistinguishable will come to be seen as very different from each other in mental abilities, personalities, future career prospects, and the likelihood of behavioral problems and diseases.
The ability to genetically test babies on the adoption market will change incentives for single women on whether to get knocked up and by who. Single women who get their DNA tested and find they have highly desired features will be able to select donor sperm of men who also have highly desired features and make babies which will fetch much higher prices on the adoption market. So genetic testing combined with (a preferably legal) adoption market should raise the quality of babies born out of wedlock.
But other advances in reproductive biotechnology will limit the development of the donor egg and adopted baby markets. Most notably, advances in the treatment of fertility problems will reduce the need for couples to turn to donor eggs and adoption. Stem cell manipulations will produce viable eggs and sperm made of a couple's own DNA. Most people will prefer their own DNA for producing their babies over that of strangers.
The donor egg market may, in any case, face an increasingly hostile regulatory environment. While a debate rages in Britain as to whether to loosen restrictions on payment to egg donors the wind in California is blowing in the opposite direction. Governor Schwarzenegger faces a decision on whether to sign legislation that would ban the sale of eggs by private parties.
Hoping to preempt a controversy, the authors of California's Proposition 71, approved in 2004, declared that scientists who received grants from the $3-billion state stem cell agency could not pay egg donors but merely reimburse their expenses.
A bill now on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's desk, sponsored by state Sens. Deborah Ortiz (D-Sacramento) and George Runner (R-Lancaster), would extend those payment restrictions to privately funded laboratories.
Feminists are behind this attempt to reduce reproductive choices.
The Center for Genetics and Society in Oakland and the Pro-Choice Alliance for Responsible Research in Los Angeles are two of the most vocal supporters of the measure. Both describe themselves as staunchly feminist.
They imagine that they are protecting lower class Hispanic and black women from exploitation.
Emily Galpern, reproductive health and human rights director for the Center for Genetics and Society, said she feared that without the legislation, poor and minority women would be exploited for their eggs.
News flash to Emily Galpern: The poor black and Hispanic women aren't getting much "exploitation" from egg buyers as market prices for eggs attest. Upper class male patriarchal white capitalist exploiters with the money to spend on expensive eggs aren't beating a path to the doors of poor women wanting to buy their eggs. The big demand is for Ivy League egg and sperm donors who the upper class (correctly) see as possessing the right genetic alleles for giving birth to smarter babies with higher potential for success in the marketplace. Plus, I'm guessing the upper class parents simply want kids who have the capacity to become their intellectual peers.
That legislation mentioned above was signed into law by Governor Schwarzenegger
The United States is one of many countries in which legislation and social norms proscribe the selling of body parts. It is also the world capital of the genetic material market: No other nation trades in DNA so widely and freely. Hopeful mothers and cash-strapped college students have been trading cash for eggs for 20 years, calling the ova a “donation” and the money compensation for time and discomfort, thus avoiding the ban on sales. Outside Food and Drug Administration mandates regarding the importance of testing donors for specific diseases and monitoring their progress, there are no federal laws restricting egg donors in the U.S.; elsewhere, the laws reflect a surprising lack of consensus on the issue. In Germany, Denmark, and Italy, egg donation is completely illegal. In Israel, payment for eggs can cover only the direct expenses related to the procedure. In the U.K., eggs are classified as organs, and payment is banned.
The rate of advance of reproductive biotechnology will slow if that market becomes subject to bans on the sale of eggs and sperm.
Though the group expresses some concern about exploitation of women who sell their eggs for in vitro fertilization, it notes that these donors tend to be white, well educated and well paid — often $5,000 to $50,000 because of the demand for their genetic material.
Stem cell researchers, in contrast, seek eggs only as a vehicle for someone else's DNA — so all viable eggs can be used, regardless of class or race.
Eventually stem cell researchers will need eggs with specific qualities. For example, they might want eggs from women who carry traits that cause genetic diseases. The ability to offer to pay those women could help to find and bring forward women to donate eggs with the needed genetic variations.
The stem cell researchers are not trying to use eggs that come from smart and good looking women. Some people (academics - probably left-wing) are upset that the smart and good looking women can still sell their eggs for top dollar.
Other critics say it's illogical to regulate payments to some egg donors but not others.
"Shouldn't we be worried about the women" donating eggs to fertility clinics? asked Radhika Rao, of UC Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco and a member of a state commission that crafted guidelines for stem cell research. "If you pay women a lot and they're white, it isn't exploitation?"
To Radhika Rao: Why not decide that it is not exploitation in either case? I realize that isn't sufficiently Marxist for some tastes. But might it be true? If not, why not?
As a friend of mine likes to say: There's only one thing worse than being exploited: Not being exploited. What, no capitalist wants to pay you? Bummer when that happens.
|Share |||Randall Parker, 2006 October 29 11:11 AM Bioethics Reproduction|