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The Baby Business: How Money, Science, and Politics Drive the Commerce of Conception [Hardcover]

Debora L. Spar

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Book Description

Feb. 1 2006
Despite legislation that claims to prohibit it, there is a thriving market for babies spreading across the globe. Fueled by rapid advances in reproductive medicine and the desperate desires of millions of would-be parents, the acquisition of children-whether through donated eggs, rented wombs, or cross-border adoption-has become a multibillion dollar industry that has left science, law, ethics, and commerce deeply at odds.

In The Baby Business, Debora Spar argues that it is time to acknowledge the commercial truth about reproduction and to establish a standard that governs its transactions. In this fascinating behind-the-scenes account, she combines pioneering research and interviews with the industry's top reproductive scientists and trailblazers to provide a first glimpse at how the industry works: who the baby-makers are, who makes money, how prices are set, and what defines the clientele. Fascinatingstories illustrate the inner workings of market segments - including stem cell research, surrogacy, egg swapping, "designer babies," adoption, and human cloning - as Spar explores the moral and legal challenges that industry players must address.

The first purely commercial look at an industry that deals in humanity's most intimate issues, this book challenges us to consider the financial promise and ethical perils we'll face as the baby business moves inevitably forward.

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From Publishers Weekly

Among the troubling aspects of new reproductive technologies is the takeover of reproduction by the marketplace. This probing study accepts the free market process while casting a discerning and skeptical eye at its pitfalls. Harvard business prof Spar (The Cooperative Edge: The Internal Politics of International Cartels) explores many aspects of the high-tech commodification of procreation: the fabulous revenues commercial fertility clinics earn from couples' desperate desire for children and the ensuing conflicts between medical ethics and the profit motive; the premiums paid for sperm and eggs from genetically desirable donors; the possible exploitation of poor, nonwhite and Third World surrogate mothers paid to gestate the spawn of wealthy Westerners; the fine line between modern adoption practices and outright baby selling; and the new entrepreneurial paradigm of maternity, in which the official "mother" simply finances the assemblage of sperm, purchased egg and hired womb and lays contractual claim to the finished infant. Spar considers most of these developments inevitable and not undesirable (they provide kids to parents who want them), but calls for government regulation to curb excesses and protect the interests of all involved. Her sanguinity will not satisfy all critics, but she offers a lucid, nuanced guide to this brave new world. (Feb. 14)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


"Spar builds a case for some regulation…to ensure that it "manufacture[s] embryos that turn into babies," accessible to all who want them." -- The Globe and Mail, May 27, 2006

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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  12 reviews
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Birth of the Scholarly Page Turner March 30 2006
By R. Schmon - Published on Amazon.com
This is good stuff-if not juicy, and Spar casts a wide net that doesn't miss a thing: conception techniques, fertility markets, surrogacy, designer babies, human cloning, and adoption. The writer also has the guts to have a lucid, constructive point of view-never backing away from the controversial subjects many would balk about discussing. This book is a must read for anyone who might, is, or has gone through any of the processes above, and for the rest of us like me, just a great eye-opening read. In fact, I kept thinking as the pages turned: "I had no idea..." As a piece of scholarly writing it is immaculate (check out the pages of footnotes!), but more impressive is the fact that Spar's writing style is trenchant, entertaining and unwavering in it's ability to present a point of view to the reader. I wasn't expecting it, but Spar continually challenges and provokes as she weaves her riveting tale of the dynamics of a topic-both moral and technical-that is dear to the hearts of us all: babies. Wow. A scholarly page-turner!? Shouldn't there be an award for that? It's great read, and I highly recommend it.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful treatise on a difficult and emotional topic Feb. 28 2006
By G. Ross - Published on Amazon.com
A very insightful treatise on a very difficult and necessarily emotional topic. For anyone involved in the business of fertility or interested in using non-traditional methods of conception or the adoption of children, a must read. Ms. Spar's book is a frank, detailed plunge into the practices, economies and ethics of the "Baby Business" with conclusions that propose a gentle regulation of reproduction practices.
15 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mere markets? Sept. 20 2006
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
The fact that this book is published by the Harvard Business School and the author is a professor there tells us much about how this topic is broached. The main focus of the book is on how the infertility industry (the baby business) and the market interact. Other vital elements, such as moral considerations, are barely mentioned. And this is where the book breaks down. Yes, the market side to the question is very important, and rightly needs to be explored, but taken out of a bigger social and ethical context, the approach comes across barren and empty (no pun intended).

Spar quickly dismisses ethical concerns, arguing that they are messy, controversial, and incapable of any resolution. Thus her focus is single: to see how the desire for babies fits in with the world of trade and commerce. And her premises are not easily gainsaid: people desire to have babies (and/or baby parts, or services, or technologies) and there are many who are happy to provide these things, especially for a price. It is as simple as that: supply and demand.

Economically speaking, as Spar keeps noting, it is a match made in heaven. This trade in babies is therefore inevitable and here to stay, she argues. The horse has bolted, and there is no going back to the stable now. We must live with the new reproductive technologies, and their inevitable commercialization. The only question is whether the baby market should be open slather, or whether some sort of regulatory scheme should be put in place.

The bulk of this book examines the various areas of the baby trade - be it IVF, surrogacy, sperm and egg selling, cloning and the like - and how money has been invariably linked to the fertility industry.

Of course this book describes the situation in the US, where there is very little government regulation at all over the fertility business. Other nations do have regulatory schemes in place, which the author refers to now and then. But it is the wild west of the American fertility trade that is in focus here.

Spar believes that the market will always be part of this industry, and that it is not a bad thing at all. But she recognizes that as the "product" in discussion is a human baby, many are reluctant to speak of it all in purely financial terms. She occasionally acknowledges the critics, like Leon Kass, who see much of the reproductive industry as involved in the commodification of children and the manufacture of life, but seems little impressed by their concerns.

Indeed, she says early on that the market will always triumph, while issues of morality will remain unresolved, and by implication, be of secondary importance. Thus she simply accepts the reproductive revolution and Big Biotech as necessary, inevitable forces that will not go away. Don't worry about the ethical concerns, she seems to suggest. Instead, given the inevitability of the market in this area, the only real issue is what kind of regulation, if any, do we want applied. The topic of regulation she only addresses briefly, and in her final chapter.

She in fact claims not to have any clear answers here. She does state her preference, a "light-handed regulatory regime" in which choice, information and costs are considered. She recognizes that there may be a dark side to an unchecked market, especially in some of the `yuk' areas like human cloning, but she seems to think the market as a whole, with a little help from the government, will largely get things right.

Thus she is optimistic about both the science and economics of the reproductive revolution. Many others, of course, are worried about the brave new world implications of where all this is headed. Spar here and there acknowledges these concerns, but generally sees them as irrelevant or of no great consequence. Of course such considerations are too controversial for many to even raise. Indeed, free marketers will be squeamish about such discussions. But they are nonetheless part of the equation.

Indeed, the traditional philosophical, spiritual and social implications are as much a part of this discussion as mere market concerns. So for a more inclusive and well-rounded discussion of these issues, the reader needs to go elsewhere.

But if the reader wants a simple overview and history of the new reproductive technologies, and their economic implications, this book is undoubtedly a good place to begin.
10 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An absolute must read -- a fascinating and well-written argument!! Jan. 19 2006
By L. La Mure - Published on Amazon.com
This book is absolutely fascinating! It considers the burgeoning industry behind reproductive science and its associated web of legal, scientific and commercial interests and issues. Not only is the book's subject matter fascinating, but it is also extremely well-written, offering a nice blend of broad arguments and extraordinary anecdotes. It is an absolute "must read" for anyone interested in the moral, political and legal machinations behind the market for children. I highly recommend it!!!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Clear-eyed Analysis of the Infertility World July 4 2007
By Melissa L. Owsley - Published on Amazon.com
Unlike so many books in this field, Ms. Spar does not fall into the trap of sensationalism. Of all of the books I've read on this technology and its impact on society, it is the best.

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