Altruism and Intermediation in the Market for Babies
UVA Law Faculty Affiliations
Central to every legal system is the principle that certain items are off-limits to commercial exchange. In theory, babies are one such sacred object. This supposed ban on baby selling has been lamented by those who view commercial markets as the most efficient means of allocating resources, and defended by those who contend that commercial markets in parental rights commodify human beings, compromise individual dignity, or jeopardize fundamental values. However, the supposed and much-discussed baby selling ban does not, and is not intended to, eliminate commercial transactions in children. Instead, it is an asymmetric legal restriction that limits the ability of baby market suppliers to share in the full profits generated by their reproductive labor, insisting instead that they derive a large portion of their compensation from the utility associated with altruistic donation. Meanwhile, a wide range of baby market intermediaries profit handsomely in the baby market, without similar restrictions on their market activities. Baby selling "bans" thus have more in common with the rent-seeking by powerful marketplace actors seen in other commercial markets than with normative statements about the sanctity of human life. The author concludes with a call for the removal of the last vestiges of the "ban" against baby selling and other laws that diminish the capacity of baby market suppliers to access the marketplace.