© 1991 Karen Selick
 The Case for Baby Buying
An edited version of this article first appeared in the February, 1991 issue of Canadian Lawyer.  If you wish to reproduce this article, click here for copyright info.


 The Case for Baby Buying

Last October, while a California court was busy enforcing a surrogate motherhood contract, the National Action Committee on the Status of Women (NAC) was busy trying to persuade a Royal Commission that surrogacy contracts should not be enforceable in Canada. 

To me, the California court was on the right track. Doesn't it seem fitting somehow that people who value babies more than money should get the babies, while people who value money more than babies should get the money? 

Of course, the NAC was not simply arguing that surrogates should win in court whenever they change their minds. They went much further, calling for an outright ban on surrogacy contracts and criminal penalties for intermediaries who arrange diem. 

People seem to fear that if we allowed the "buying" of babies, purchasers would buy them for all sorts of dubious purposes--that we would be sanctioning something akin to slavery. 

But being a parent has never meant that you own your baby. A birth mother can't enslave, torture or murder her child. All she has the right to do is to act as a parent--to provide care and try to establish a rewarding relationship. If she chooses to give up her rights as a parent, whether for cash or otherwise, all she can transfer are the rights that she herself had. 

In any event, there's no reason to believe that people who commission the production of a baby are any more likely to want it for evil or sadistic purposes than people who have children naturally. If anything, the contrary is probably true. People tend to take better care of something when they've had to make sacrifices to get it. 

We seem to have a double standard when it comes to paying for the production of babies: it's okay for the state to do it, but not for private individuals. There were no protests when the government of Quebec announced that it would pay parents $6,000 per child for third, fourth, fifth and umpteenth children. It's a safe bet that over the course of their lifetimes, the state will take more out of those misbegotten babies than any set of commissioning parents ever would. 

The NAC's hostility toward surrogacy and other reproductive technologies such as in vitro fertilization arises, says their Royal Commission brief, because such technologies represent "an extension of the marketplace right inside the human body." Unfortunately, they never bother to explain why that notion is so terrible. 

I think what's terrible is that the NAC considers the marketplace to be a self-evident evil, instead of the force for progress, well-being and self-determination it really is. 

They argue that we don't allow the sale of blood or body parts in Canada, and recommend that this prohibition be extended to sperm, ova and embryos. Those, they say, must be "donated as a gift, to be stored by a public agency for the use of those who need them, not sold to the highest bidder." 

This ignores the tragic fact that there are chronic shortages of blood and body parts in Canada--shortages that might be alleviated, saving untold misery, if donors (including the families of deceased persons) could be offered cash inducements. 

Yes, there are places in the world where blood is purchased and sold, and one of the problems is that money attracts vendors whose blood may be diseased or drugged. This hazard is certainly reduced with donated blood. 

But there are other ways of reducing the hazard. One is to permit the development of commercial ventures that have a financial incentive to screen their products for quality. A commercial blood bank would have a reputation to preserve and liability-insurance premiums to pay. They'd go broke quickly if their products weren't safe. 

Commercial sperm and egg banks, and surrogate contract brokers, could offer similar protection both to purchasers and suppliers, because a good reputation ensures more business. By handling a large volume of cases, they could screen out potential problems much more effectively than an individual could hope to do on his own. 

The NAC invoke the spectre of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World in their argument against in vitro fertilization. Could they really have missed the whole point of the book? The evil depicted by Huxley was not that babies were fertilized in test tubes, but that an all-powerful government controlled the process, deciding who lived, who died, and everything in between. By proposing to make "a public agency" the sole repository of reproductive technology, the NAC are begging for Huxley's nightmare to come true. 

Would anyone really trust the government with this function? This is the same bunch of hypocrites who gave us "free" universal medicate, then set up a cozy private clinic for themselves so they wouldn't have to wait in the inevitable line-ups with the hoi polloi. Will the top bureaucrats be the first to use the reproductive technologies they'd make it illegal for the rest of us to buy? 

Unlike the NAC, my vision of the future is neither Brave New World nor Margaret Atwood's Handmaid's Tale. It's Robert Heinlein's The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. The heroine, a moon colonist and professional host mother, leads a successful revolution--in her spare time--against a tyrannical earth government that has been throttling the moon's free marketplace. 

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