Baby Markets Roundtable explores game-changing ways families are created and regulated

An array of academics, policymakers, and activists came together for the eighth annual Baby Markets Roundtable at UC Law SF on May 4 and 5, 2018. The invitation-only event addressed issues in the area of contemporary family-making, which increasingly includes cutting-edge science, international negotiations, and unregulated contracts. Professor Radhika Rao has been involved with the roundtable since its inception and co-organized this year’s gathering with professor Michele Goodwin of UC Irvine School of Law.

The central idea of the roundtable was that babies can now be brought into families strictly with services provided by strangers operating in a market. Eggs and sperm can be purchased, and assisted reproductive technology (Art) and surrogate pregnancies allow people with means to create the babies of their dreams.

“When we began, the roundtable was much smaller and only academic,” Rao said. “But many of us had ties with activists and policymakers working in reproductive rights and genetics, so this year, we had attendees from many different organizations who broadened our conversations.”

Attendees from the center for reproductive rights, the Pro-Choice Alliance for Responsible Research, If/When/How, the Center for Genetics and Society, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the Disability Rights Education Fund, and the World Institute on Disability, among others, came for panels addressing race and genetic selection, international surrogacy, abortion, reproductive justice, and regulation of Art.

“Many of us are worried about the ways in which regulation can reinforce and perpetuate hierarchies and diminish equality,” rao said. “there are different perspectives in our group, but we share common fears about discrimination.”

For instance, Raquel Cool of the advocacy group We Are Egg Donors spoke about the little-known, long-term health risks to women who donate eggs to be used for creating in vitro embryos.

The process of egg retrieval involves off-label use of medications not approved by the FDA and can result in complications to the donor that are still being studied. Even more common is the emotional toll that donors pay. Cool reported that women feel like poorly treated “gumball machines” and have no follow-up after they endure the retrieval procedure.

The roundtable debated the importance of economic advancement and entrepreneurship for women who use their reproductive capacity to make money, whether as egg donors or surrogate mothers, which often happens in ethically murky circumstances. “There’s always that dual character of empowerment while being exploited as a worker and sometimes having limited rights,” Rao said. Papers from the roundtable will be published in a forthcoming volume, and the debate will continue at next year’s event to be held at George Washington University, in Washington, D.C.