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- 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.