Acton Institute Powerblog

The Baby Market

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America’s fertility clinics are now allowing parents to screen embryos according to sex, and more are opting for this practice. Kevin Schmiesing observes that the idea of children as “gift” is under increasing stress as alternative and sometimes conflicting notions of child as right, as burden, or as consumer item compete for dominance. Despite the great power of the market to satisfy the needs and wants of humanity, “its advantages turn pernicious when it encompasses human goods that should never be reduced to monetary values,” Kevin says.

Read the full commentary here.

Anthony Bradley Anthony Bradley, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Theology and Ethics in the Public Service Program at The King's College in New York City and serves as a Research Fellow at the Acton Institute. Dr. Bradley lectures at colleges, universities, business organizations, conferences, and churches throughout the U.S. and abroad. His books include: Liberating Black Theology: The Bible and the Black Experience in America (2010),  Black and Tired: Essays on Race, Politics, Culture, and International Development (2011),  The Political Economy of Liberation: Thomas Sowell and James Cone of the Black Experience (2012), Keep Your Head Up: America's New Black Christian Leaders, Social Consciousness, and the Cosby Conversation (2012), Aliens in the Promised Land:  Why Minority Leadership Is Overlooked in White Christian Churches and Institutions (forthcoming, 2013). Dr. Bradley's writings on religious and cultural issues have been published in a variety of journals, including: the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Detroit News, and World Magazine. Dr. Bradley is called upon by members of the broadcast media for comment on current issues and has appeared C-SPAN, NPR, CNN/Headline News, and Fox News, among others. He studies and writes on issues of race in America, hip hop, youth culture, issues among African Americans, the American family, welfare, education, and modern slavery. From 2005-2009, Dr. Bradley was Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology and Ethics at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO where he also directed the Francis A. Schaeffer Institute.   Dr. Bradley holds Bachelor of Science in biological sciences from Clemson University, a Master of Divinity from Covenant Theological Seminary, and a Doctor of Philosophy degree from Westminster Theological Seminary.  Dr. Bradley also holds an M.A. in Ethics and Society at Fordham University.


  • Timothy Terrell

    Why is this disturbing or alarming? How do we know which “human goods” should not be “reduced to monetary values”?

    It is pretty clear from the Bible that prostitution is immoral, so a market in sexual services is not permissible for Christian society. Abortion as well is clearly immoral. But this argument that sex selection is immoral because…? because…it’s disturbing? doesn’t quite cut it. Are morals up for a vote? (“How many of you find this alarming?”) If there is anything alarming about this practice of selecting embryos, it would be the destruction of the fertilized embryos that are not selected. But Schmeising’s line of argument seems to boil down to “It’s not right because I find it repulsive.”

    As a conservative Presbyterian, I’ll stick with the Bible–and the doctrine of Christian liberty that I believe is found there. If God doesn’t forbid it, it’s permitted. Now, I’m not dismissing other arguments against embryo selection, in fact I made one myself–that it involves killing rejected embryos. But to say it’s wrong just because the market is involved is not convincing.

    Thomas Woods has [url=]an interesting response[/url] to the argument that the market “commodifies” everything.

  • Dale Mylne

    “Nature” has provided a nearly perfect ‘balance’ of male and female. To allow members of present cultures to make genetic choices does a couple of things. First of all, it surely throws the small inequality of the numbers of male vs. female babies, into increasingly monosexual waters. Should I say homosexual? Anyway, a single (mono and homo) gender predominates. A society with too large a proportion of males leads to constant fighting and war (i.e., strict Islamic societies); one with too large a proportion of females leads to snipy gossiping and warfare on a more personal level. Worse yet, many of the lesser (quantitatively speaking) gender will be left without marriage partners, barring polyandry or polygyny. But why stop there. Might freedom of choice in this jurisdiction that belongs rightly to Nature and Nature’s God expand to include other features which will in the long run — how are we to know — actually weaken, devastate, potentially destroy — humanity’s genetic pool? I don’t know. It’s possible. I do know that most people make emotional decisions rather than well-considered ones, and make their decisions in ignorance of or in disregard of facts that would lead a more reasonable person to a different decision. God has done well. Nature is doing well. Why should humanity muck it up again with multiple HIVs, diseases, genetic disorders, and in-breeding. (If two people, even unrelated, choose the same genetic features, they have in fact genetically altered their children into gene (not blood) relatives. People who normally were unconsanguinous enough to marry now can’t without risking their offspring — and their “choices” may only compound the problem.

  • Timothy Terrell,

    Thank you for your comment. I want to address just a couple of your points.

    You are correct that the commentary does not make a full moral argument against sex selection or the other practices cited. That was not the point. There is more than one way to go about drawing attention to the evil of a given act. One is to appeal to people’s innate moral sense of what is right and wrong. The concept is in the Bible: Paul’s reference to the law “written on the heart.” For example, I think (and there is evidence to support the idea) that many or most people who participated in and witnessed American slaves being sold at auction sensed that it was wrong, but the force of custom, the lure of profit, and other factors overcame their qualms. The impact of a few preachers or other folks standing up and saying, “Do you realize what you’re doing here?” may have been significant.

    Going beyond this sort of visceral appeal and fully explaining *why* a given act is forbidden by God is also important, but again, that was not the purpose of this piece.

    My belief (or hope) is that, confronted with the reality of an industry dedicated to creating embryos tailored to parents’ preferences, most people will react negatively. For those who do not, a more sustained argument is necessary, and beyond what I can accomplish in this comment.

    We seem to agree that the fundamental moral evil associated with embryo screening is the destruction of embryonic human beings that results. But it can be helpful to ask what forces are contributing to that result. As I state in the article, the abandonment of the idea of child as gift and the profit motive seem to me to be important causes.

    To be clear, I do not blame the market for the commodification of anything. I think moral agency can only be assigned to persons; therefore, those who deserve censure are those who are making money from immoral activities and those who cooperate with them.

  • Michael King

    "If God doesn’t forbid it, it’s permitted?" Good grief – where did THAT come from – the Bible? I think not.

    How about "just because you CAN do something does not mean you SHOULD do something”? Why sex selection is evil is because of the nature of true freedom. For example, as in China and India when we mess with primordial forces of nature, we mess things up. Sex selection is not medicine – its prideful arrogance – like liposuction or breast implants. If one person can be allowed to "morally" sex-select a child, then EVERYONE should be allowed to sex-select a child. As in China and India, this has occurred and because of mankind’s limited social capacity, too many boys have been born. This greatly affects society, from a lack of potential future birth mothers to a male dominate society, lacking female attention and inclined toward testosterone-motivated war-mongering. It’s a brave new world. God made man and man’s sexuality. The reproductive miracle which exists between a husband and wife is intended to be a sublime prayer. A supreme human act of faith and resignation to His will. This way of looking at theology – this Theology of the Body is vibrant and full. Children are specifically the product of the love between a married man and his wife. Therefore, just as we should not tell God how many of these blessings we will accept – we should not tell Him what gender of blessing we will accept either.

    So, as you can see sex selection is not bad simply because Dr. Schmiesing said it’s bad and it’s not good simply because you chose to do it.

  • Whittney Kesterson

    I am doing a report on this topic and i was just wondering if you could give me so more information. it would be very helpful, thank you!