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The Business of Babies

My commentary for today, “The Big Business of Making Babies,” introduces the work of Harvard professor Debora L. Spar and her new book The Baby Business: How Money, Science, and Politics Drive the Commerce of Conception.

In “The Business of Babies,” written by reporter Julia Hanna, published at the Web site of the Harvard Business School, Spar’s argument is explained like this:

We have a business that doesn’t feel like a business,” said Spar. “Nobody wants to acknowledge the extent of commercialization.” Yet Americans alone spent $2.7 billion on fertility treatments in 2002. Procedures such as egg and sperm donation, in vitro fertilization (IVF), surrogacy, and adoption demand payments of $10,000 and up.

The largest demand in this market consists of infertile couples. Last year, some two million U.S. couples underwent fertility treatments. Additional demand includes same-sex couples, those at risk of passing on genetic defects to their children, single parents, fertile adopters, and “gender selectors” who want a baby boy (or girl) at any cost.

“We’re not talking about demand for potato chips,” said Spar. “This is the kind of demand that becomes an obsession. Price is less of an issue than it is in other markets.

In other words, morality will take a back seat to the demands of the marketplace. This argument deserves close attention. Unless the nation’s conscience is transformed on the question of human dignity, this is the ominous shape of the future.