Buying Babies — by Rachel Lu

 

shutterstock_99206987I’m writing a paper about “third party reproduction.” If you’re not familiar, this is what they call it when a person or couple decide to make a baby but involve a third party in the process, either as a source of genetic material or as a host for purposes of gestation. Surrogacy and artificial insemination are two of the primary examples.

Third-party reproduction is going to become a big bioethical debate over the next few years. It’s not a new thing, but the pressures to make it easier and cheaper are intensifying rapidly. The reason is obvious. Same-sex couples are creating a market for children. The fertility industry is looking to meet that demand.

I’ve been working on an analogy and I’m curious how it strikes people. I’d be grateful if people would tell me what intuitions they have about it.

Suppose we have an educated gentleman living in the antebellum South. He and his wife are unable to have children. This is a source of terrible grief to her. The gentleman isn’t racist, but he also isn’t a committed abolitionist; as a copious reader of history he sees slavery together with war, poverty, prostitution, political corruption, and a million other evils, as a part of the human story. It isn’t beautiful, but it’s a thing people do and he doesn’t feel personally called to interfere.

Since his wife so desperately wants a child, however, he sees an obvious solution. He goes to the local slave market and buys her a baby. He tells his wife if she loves him like her own she’ll find that this child can satisfy her maternal longings. She believes him, and they raise the baby as their son. When he reaches adulthood, they draw up the paperwork and formally emancipate him. They help him to find a job in the north where he can live and work as a free man.

How does this scenario strike people? Is it morally defective to acquire a child through a slave market, given the intention to love and nurture him? If so, can we find a morally significant difference between the couple that buys their baby from a slave market and the couple that buys their baby through a commercial surrogacy arrangement?

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  1. Vectorman Inactive
    Vectorman
    @Vectorman

    Main Feed with zero comments before this one.  Quite an accomplishment!

    • #1
  2. user_645127 Lincoln
    user_645127
    @jam

    I’m so glad you’re writing about this, Rachel.

    • #2
  3. user_96427 Contributor
    user_96427
    @tommeyer

    Rachel Lu:
    Suppose we have an educated gentleman living in the antebellum South. He and his wife are unable to have children. This is a source of terrible grief to her. 
    Since his wife so desperately wants a child, however, he sees an obvious solution. He goes to the local slave market and buys her a baby. He tells his wife if she loves him like her own she’ll find that this child can satisfy her maternal longings. She believes him, and they raise the baby as their son. When he reaches adult

    Why isn’t the child immediately emancipated upon adoption?  Why do they wait until he reaches majority?

    • #3
  4. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    I think the analogy fails in that the surrogate in the slave scenario is not conceiving, birthing, or giving up the child by choice. Still, there is some connection there in the buying and selling of human beings.

    • #4
  5. Lavaux Inactive
    Lavaux
    @Lavaux

    One big problem I see with the analogy is that the slave boy’s biological parents had no parental rights by virtue of their legal status as chattel, to which legal status I presume they did not voluntarily consent. In contrast, a sperm donor voluntarily waives all parental rights and obligations over the product of his loins. In other words, the analogy introduces a circumstance – the involuntary expropriation of parental rights – that isn’t present in third-party reproduction. I understand that slavery provokes moral outrage and hence engagement, but it’s not a good fit here.

    • #5
  6. user_423975 Coolidge
    user_423975
    @BrandonShafer

    I agree.  The only way this analogy works is if in the modern incantation the adoptive couple forces the parents to give up the baby.  If, in the antebellum south scenario, the slave parents were consulted and wanted the baby to have this better life, then ok, but that is more akin to adoption than surrogacy.  Which raises a question, what difference is surrogacy to adoption, and if commercial surrogacy is wrong, why is adoption good?

    • #6
  7. user_517406 Inactive
    user_517406
    @MerinaSmith

    I do see differences from the standpoint of the parents. The slave parents had no choice about the fate of the child.  But from the standpoint of the child, I don’t see any difference, except that a child born through surrogacy would not be a slave or need to be emancipated.  The two scenarios are similar, however, in that the child has no choice in his fate.  When society assumes that children should be born to the two people who conceived them with adoption available for those cases where the parents can’t do their duty toward their child, we have an understood scenario that usually ties children to their biological parents.  Adoption is a good, in other words, that comes out of a bad.  The two scenarios you use are alike in that both assume that the connection to biological parents is unimportant.  This is the assumption of surrogacy that makes me very uncomfortable.

    • #7
  8. user_645127 Lincoln
    user_645127
    @jam

     “….if commercial surrogacy is wrong, why is adoption good?”

    Adoption exists to give parents to children who need them. Surrogacy exists to give children to parents who want them.

    • #8
  9. user_86050 Inactive
    user_86050
    @KCMulville

    “Same-sex couples are creating a market for children. The fertility industry is looking to meet that demand.”

    Instead of producing new life, and then raising life to go out into the world as free persons … we design babies as commodities, and sell them as persons. Children are supposed to be produced by love; not produced (i.e., engineered) then sold to be loved.

    I have frequently, in past posts, mentioned the difference between the profane and the sacred. The profane is filled with mere objects to be used, in whatever way individuals feel like using them. Profane things can be used for anything, even if they were designed for an obvious purpose. Profane things are at your disposal, so to speak. But the sacred is different. You don’t “use” sacred things. They have a specific purpose that you don’t control, and you have no right to use the sacred for any other purpose.

    We ought to treat people as sacred, not as commodities. Humans have their own self-interests; that’s what makes them sacred. We can’t manufacture humans to satisfy our own self-interests. That is literally a sacrilege.

    • #9
  10. user_96427 Contributor
    user_96427
    @tommeyer

    The King Prawn:
    Still, there is some connection there in the buying and selling of human beings.

    Agreed, but one could say the exact same thing about adoption.

    That said, there seems to be a difference between adopting a child that already exists and making a child for the purpose of adoption.  I’m not sure what the significance of that difference is, but I’m willing to hear folks out.

    • #10
  11. Karen Inactive
    Karen
    @Karen

    Yeah, I don’t think that analogy holds up. The comparison seems too similar to international adoptions, e.g. a wealthy white childless American couple forks over a lot of money to lawyers and who knows who else to adopt a child from Congo. They don’t “buy” the baby, but your thesis is too easily side-tracked by your analogy. I personally am quite sympathetic toward third party reproduction within reason, and I think many people are. It’s mostly hetero couple that choose 3rd party reproduction anyway. So you’re telling them that IVF is like buying a slave? Really?

    • #11
  12. user_96427 Contributor
    user_96427
    @tommeyer

    KC Mulville:
    I have frequently, in past posts, mentioned the difference between the profane and the sacred. The profane is filled with mere objects to be used, in whatever way individuals feel like using them. Profane things can be used for anything, even if they were designed for an obvious purpose. Profane things are at your disposal, so to speak. But the sacred is different. You don’t “use” sacred things. They have a specific purpose that you don’t control, and you have no right to use the sacred for any other purpose.

    KC, I follow the concern, but not how it actually plays out.  What is it about money changing hands that causes the child to be seen as profane?  Alternately, if my wife and I were to adopt an orphan, would expressing any preference among the available kids undermine/reduce our love for him or her?  What if we offered to pay a premium for the kid of our choice?

    I don’t see how this would affect/undermine our future love for that kid.

    • #12
  13. user_423975 Coolidge
    user_423975
    @BrandonShafer


     Maybe from Society’s perspective, but from the parents’ perspective, I would suspect that there is very little difference.  Not that I agree with same-sex adoption, but particularly for same-sex couples because adoption might not be an option for them.

    • #13
  14. Karen Inactive
    Karen
    @Karen

    What?! So who gets to decide between needs and wants? You? You sound like a liberal!

    • #14
  15. user_423975 Coolidge
    user_423975
    @BrandonShafer

    What is the difference between a heterosexual couple that takes fertility, and one that uses a surrogate when the womb is inhospitable?

    • #15
  16. user_96427 Contributor
    user_96427
    @tommeyer

    Jennifer Thieme: Adoption exists to give parents to children who need them. Surrogacy exists to give children to parents who want them.

    But how is surrogacy different in that way from naturally-conceiving a child?

    • #16
  17. user_331141 Inactive
    user_331141
    @JamieLockett

    A major flaw in this entire post:
    We don’t live in the antebellum south. What bearing does this analogy have on modern assisted reproductive methods?
    Also – the market for third party reproduction was quite robust before homosexuals decided they wanted to have children en mass. Blaming this on “Teh Gays” is lazy.

    • #17
  18. user_240173 Contributor
    user_240173
    @FrankSoto

    How much do kids run these days?  40, 50 bucks?

    • #18
  19. user_86050 Inactive
    user_86050
    @KCMulville

    Money is not the focus; it only exacerbates the moral problem.

    The problem is that a child is being created specifically to satisfy an emotional need in the parents. Instead of a person coming into the world and having the freedom to follow his own purpose, and having parents whose main job is to facilitate that individual finding and following his own purpose, that model of parenting turns the focus around – the wrong way, I’d say. Instead of the parents serving the children, the children are being created to serve the parents.

    My children were a product of the love I have for my wife. They came from that love. But my children aren’t objects; they’re subjects with their own dignity. As parents, we were happy to give them life – their own life, not for our sake. In Aristotelian language, they aren’t the final cause of our love. What’s their final cause? That’s for them to live out on their own.

    Creating new life should be a selfless act, freeing children (gradually) to live their own lives … not to manufacture an object, or a receptacle of the affection I need to express.

    • #19
  20. user_645127 Lincoln
    user_645127
    @jam

    “But how is surrogacy different in that way from naturally-conceiving a child?”

    Third party reproduction cuts off a child from his biological roots by design. From the perspective of the child, which is an important and mostly overlooked perspective, it’s not different from the slave analogy in the OP. In both cases, the adults are not paying attention to what the child wants. They are making a very large assumption: that the child will only care about being loved.   Unfortunately, this assumption is proving to be false. Many people who were conceived and raised in this way are speaking out against it. We are finding that they care deeply about their biological origins, and resent having these assumptions made for them.

    • #20
  21. Kim K. Inactive
    Kim K.
    @KimK

    Regarding slavery, you said: 

        It isn’t beautiful, but it’s a thing people do and he doesn’t feel personally called to interfere.

    He doesn’t feel called to interfere, but he’s going to take advantage of the situation anyway. This seems to be the weak part of the argument. Just because a set of possibilities exists doesn’t provide an excuse for availing oneself of them. 

    • #21
  22. user_240173 Contributor
    user_240173
    @FrankSoto

    Sorry, but this is over the top.  Many of these children wouldn’t exist at all if not for the adoptive couple who sought out a surrogate.  Plenty are surely curious about their biological parents, but I highly doubt most don’t consider the people who raised them to be their real parents.

    • #22
  23. user_645127 Lincoln
    user_645127
    @jam

    Oh no! You’re nesting! lol I was going to try to avoid it, but I guess I’ll give it a shot here.

    “I highly doubt most don’t consider the people who raised them to be their real parents.”

    You may be surprised to read stories by people in that circumstance.

    • #23
  24. user_645127 Lincoln
    user_645127
    @jam

    Brandon Shafer:


    Maybe from Society’s perspective, but from the parents’ perspective, I would suspect that there is very little difference. Not that I agree with same-sex adoption, but particularly for same-sex couples because adoption might not be an option for them.

     What about the child’s perspective?

    • #24
  25. user_331141 Inactive
    user_331141
    @JamieLockett

    How can something that doesn’t exist want anything? How can something that hasn’t formed cognitive abilities complex enough understand third party surrogacy have an opinion about it? What empirical evidence exists to suggest that these children are worse off? (the plural of anecdote is not data)

    • #25
  26. user_645127 Lincoln
    user_645127
    @jam

    Oh my. Nesting is going to suck. Big time. I already hate it.

    • #26
  27. user_96427 Contributor
    user_96427
    @tommeyer

    Jennifer Thieme:

    That’s not answering my specific challenge.  You wrote that “Surrogacy exists to give children to parents who want them.”  How is that different from parents who conceive children naturally?

    I share your concern — though not its intensity — about the wisdom of surrogacy.  It’s this specific argument regarding desire that I find unsupported.

    • #27
  28. user_645127 Lincoln
    user_645127
    @jam

    Jamie Lockett:
    How can something that doesn’t exist want anything? How can something that hasn’t formed cognitive abilities complex enough understand third party surrogacy have an opinion about it? What empirical evidence exists to suggest that these children are worse off? (the plural of anecdote is not data)

    There are some interesting stories here:

    http://anonymousus.org/stories/index.php?cid=2#.UyignvldWuo

    • #28
  29. user_645127 Lincoln
    user_645127
    @jam

    Karen:
    What?! So who gets to decide between needs and wants? You? You sound like a liberal!

     It’s not me deciding, it’s the kids who have been raised under it:

    http://anonymousus.org/stories/index.php?cid=2#.UyignvldWuo

    • #29
  30. user_407430 Contributor
    user_407430
    @RachelLu

    I understand that the parents of the slave baby are wronged in a way that commercial surrogates don’t seem to be, because they don’t consent to give up their child. On the other hand, the baby was being sold in a slave market, so the detachment from his natural parents is a done deal; if the couple in question didn’t buy him he’d presumably fare much worse.

    • #30
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