Supply and Demand in an Infant Marketplace
Author: Spar, Debora L.
Source: Harvard Business Review
Persistent demand from people who have been denied the blessings of parenthood has created an assisted-reproduction market that stretches around the globe and encompasses hundreds of thousands of people. In the United States alone, nearly 41,000 children were born via in vitro fertilization (IVF) in 2001. Roughly 6,000 came from donated eggs, and almost 600 were carried by surrogate mothers. U.S. legislators have been reluctant to regulate this market. As a result, there are no national policies for IVF, which requires creating--and often discarding--embryos, or for many other technologies. State laws vary widely, and many states have no legislation on these subjects whatsoever. Although fertility specialists generally seem delighted to practice in an unregulated gray area, a modicum of regulation and the establishment of agreed-upon norms could lead to substantially lower prices, wider access, and an expansion of the market to the millions who have not yet sought out assisted reproduction. Among those millions are fertile individuals seeking to ensure that they'll be able to produce offspring in the future. For example, the technology already permits young women to freeze their eggs, thus preserving their fertility (in case, for instance, they marry late in life). The fertility trade is in some ways analogous to the markets for personal computers and DVD players, which were initially considered luxury items but migrated to the mass market, earning manufacturers the revenues to finance further innovation. A widening of availability and the introduction of property rights, rules, and institutional policies would make the marketplace more sensitive to the social, medical, and ethical issues that are emerging from the science. For example: Should there be age limits on infertility treatment? Should new procedures be subject to rigorous testing? It is time for U.S. society to begin discussion of these complex questions.