Tuesday, February 21, 2006
Thoughts on "The Baby Trade"
In a previous post, I linked to an article entitled "The Baby Trade", by Debora L. Spar, Spangler Family Professor and senior associate dean at Harvard Business School. She looks at the adoption biz from the viewpoint of an economics professor, discussing whether the "market forces" applied to adoption are valuable or not, and comparing adoption--in monetary terms--to the products of assisted conception (IUI, IVF, donor egg, donor sperm, and surrogacy). I have a few problems with her point of view. First, while I realize that her profession is to look at things from an economic standpoint, the entire article seemed very distant to me. Perhaps this is because I am accustomed to the more passionate debate one finds on lists and boards, but still, the dry dissection of the marketplace as applied to adoption palled quickly. Secondly, as Mary Anne Cohen so cogently discusses on The Daily Bastardette, Ms. Spar's contention that adoption--the official handing over of care of an existing child--should be equated with reproductive technologies is a specious argument. Ms. Cohen argues that "adoption is not a 'reproductive' right", that there is a distinct difference between the act of reproducing (however it is done) and the end result of that reproduction (to wit, a child). Reproductive technologies are dealing with the possibility of a child. The decision to abort or to carry the child is always separate from the decision to raise that child versus relinquishing the child for adoption. This is one reason why so many states have specific periods after the birth wherein a potential birthmother--the mother of the child--cannot sign any papers relinquishing that child. No matter how engaging the kicks, no matter how disengaged the mother tries to be, there is no way she can determine, realistically, whether to relinquish or not until she has seen, felt, experienced that child as a separate human being. Thirdly, she seems to regard the focus of the entire issue--the adoptee him or herself--as irrelevant. She manages to write two sentences about how adoptees may feel about adoption, casually dismissing the thought that there are adoptees out there who are disturbed by the business end of the transaction. Well, lady, have I got a surprise for you: the adult adoptees I have talked to are pretty evenly divided between those who aren't bothered by the thought of handing over money and getting a baby as a result, and those who are severely bothered by it. Fourthly, she falsely presents the question of the morality of the marketplace as applied to adoption as dichotomy of adoptive agencies and adoptive parents versus "the others". She doesn't harbor the thought--for a moment--that maybe, just maybe, there are adoptive parents and people at agencies who also think about and worry about the morality of dollars versus babies. At the end, she says, "It is hard to blame the market for causing these women's (from third-world or poverty-stricken countries) undeniable pain or to believe that halting cross-border adoption would do anything to alleviate their situation." And then she claims that the benefits that the western dollars flowing into these other countries provides the benefits that would alleviate the situation. I'm sorry. I have a major problem with that. There is plenty of evidence that the mere existence of international adoption as a "trade" produces a layer of baby brokers who entice rural women and poverty-stricken women to part with their babies for what--to them--is a princely sum, in the process garnering big bucks for themselves and others, because they are filling the pipeline for international adopters. No matter how ethical the process begins, this third layer creeps in. It has happened in South America. It has happened in Mexico. It has happened in Cambodia. In Romania. And even, it seems, in China (though the Chinese government promptly slapped the muzzle on any further news of the baby trafficking case in Hunan). There are those who might argue that it is the mothers' (and fathers') right to sell their children, that, if it helps them support their families, their other children, then it is justified. But, in the end, the problem is that the one person whose life is most affected--the adoptee--has no say in any of this. My libertarian tendencies stop right there: your rights end where that child's rights begin. I am far from anti-adoption. I believe it has its place in the world--for thousands of years in the past, through today, and into the foreseeable future. There will always be women who, for whatever reason, cannot raise the children they bear. But please, please, let's not objectify the adoption process to the point where one can blithely claim that the monetary benefit to the country as a whole outweighs the problems that it can cause to individual families and children.