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Paying for particulars in people-to-be: commercialisation, commodification and commensurability in human reproduction


The push of biomedical profits and pull of consumer desire for greater happiness and superior performance heralds a robust market in offspring enhancement. There are two reasons we might worry about the reach of commerce into the realm of selective reproduction. The first concern is that for-profit genetic enhancement, under conditions of economic necessity, would exploit the poor, by coercing them, in effect, to part with reproductive material they would prefer not to sell for money, if not for their desperate situation. The second concern is that the market valuation and exchange of sperm, eggs, and embryos would distort the meaning, and degrade the worth, of those procreative goods. I argue that the concern about exploitation does not give reason to resist a market in pre-natal enhancement, but that the concern about degradation does. This degradation concern gives rise to two specific worries: one about altruism and another about commensurability. I conclude by sketching several policy recommendations to regulate the transfer of money in exchange for sperm and eggs with specified characteristics.

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