In the Philippines, there have been far too many horror stories about hospitals selling abandoned newborn babies to couples willing to pay the price. Some hospitals will even throw in an “authentic” birth certificate into the package. In other instances, selling babies and selling birth certificates are two distinct businesses. No, it isn’t just rumor. Back in the mid-70s, a relative bought a baby from a Bicol hospital then bought an “authentic” birth certificate from a Manila hospital.
In the first place, babies — children — are not commodities. At least, they shouldn’t be. And I say “shouldn’t be” because we know that, in practice, babies are sold and bought like ordinary market commodities. Couples and individuals who have otherwise been disqualified to adopt under regular procedures can buy babies from baby brokers. Those who are unwilling to wait out the length of the normal adoption process can save time by going to the same baby brokers. Selling babies is a thriving underground business.
Another factor that encourages the underground baby business is the fact that legal adoption is an expensive and often a long drawn out process. A friend who adopted a young boy a couple of years ago spent tens of thousands of pesos for the mandatory psychological tests alone. Add the legal fees to the testing fees and the entire process can burn a deep hole in the pockets of any prospective adoptive parent.
While I agree that a certain amount of screening is necessary to gauge the fitness of the prospective parents (who wants to hand over a child to a latent pedophile or potential child abuser?), it is likewise true that legal adoption has become something that only the affluent can afford.
Another aspect that depicts the treatment of babies as commodities is how couples filter prospective adopted children.
The decades of American presence in Clark and Subic resulted in the birth of thousands of Filipino-American children. The ones given up by their mothers, a lot of whom were bar girls who could not hope to care for nor financially support their babies, were sought after in the underground baby adoption circles. These were beautiful children with the peculiar good looks from the combination of Asian and Caucasian genes. Clearly, prospective adoptive parents preferred good-looking babies over the less physically attractive ones.
In the United States, the practice of buying, selling and filtering babies has entered a new dimension. In an opinion article entitled “Parenting’s essence is lost with innovation” published in The Arizona Republic (www.azcentral.com), Linda Valdez wrote:
In Texas, a place called the Abraham Center of Life offers infertile couples the chance to select embryos after reviewing the profiles of both the egg and sperm donor. Looks, ethnicity and educational background are among the characteristics prospective parents can browse…
People want above-average babies, and technology is ready to oblige, even though society has never answered the big questions about the morality of commercializing babies.
I refer to the above article not as a criticism against maximizing the use of scientific advancement and innovation in reproductive science. I won’t make a sweeping judgment that utilizing scientific and technological advancement when it comes to determining the “quality” of a child that one will give birth to is bad under all circumstances. On the contrary. Pre-natal and post-natal care, including proper diet and nutrition during pregnancy and breastfeeding period, are illustrations of making use of advancement in reproductive health to maximize the chances that a child will be born normal and healthy. Even practices like talking to the baby while still in the womb and listening to music are results of advances in reproductive science.
I am referring to the Ms. Valdez’s opinion piece in the context of buying and selling babies. The debate over the ethics of genetic engineering and filtering aside (I have very strong opinions about those issues too but I’ll write about them another time), the Abraham Center of Life is in fact selling babies. It is more than a mere figure of speech to say that it is much like placing the embryos on a display window — like cakes in a bakeshop — allowing prospective adoptive parents to “view” them and decide which ones they prefer based on the ingredients and how they had been combined.
Supporters of what the Abraham Center of Life is doing are bound to raise issues over whether an embryo is synonymous with a baby. That’s rather like splitting hairs. The embryo is not bought for its status as an embryo but for the qualities that the child it will become will possess. Hence, for all intents and purposes, it is still about buying and selling babies.
According to Ms. Valdez’s article, the Abraham Center of Life is currently being investigated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Why it is the USFDA that is investigating it is beyond me. It should it more appropriate that the practice be investigated by Congress for possible need for new legislation in view of new practices brought about by new advances in science and medicine.
Whether or not there is such as thing as art for art’s sake is debatable. But whether or not there is science for humanity’s sake elicits little debate. For the most part, science, including allied disciplines like medicine and health, has long been a for-profit industry. While there are gems of exceptions in individuals who genuinely care more for people as people than people are source of profits, they are fast becoming a dying breed.
Yet, over and above it all, what right do we really have to pass judgment when people like us outside the scientific circles are acting in similar mercenary ways? It makes me cringe that in some parts of the world where the average couple has access to the products of scientific progress, having a child can be something as impersonal as choosing a pair of shoes.
But then again, in some parts of the world like the Philippines where access to such advanced technology is rare, many are doing the same without the benefits of scientific advancements.
Sometimes, I seriously wonder about what being human really means.
[tags]adoption, parenting, embryo, parenting, Abraham+Center+for+Life, reproductive+medicine, science, reproductive+health[/tags]