Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Brave New World and the Economy Converge

Once in a while our local paper, The Palm Beach Post, gets a leg up on the rest of the newspaper media, covering a South Florida story that is probably gaining traction in other parts of the country. It is certainly a sign of our times, bioethical issues colliding with the consequences of financial hardship. The headline says it all: More people choosing to turn their bodies into money-makers. Besides selling mundane body components such as blood, plasma or one’s hair, eggs and “womb rental” are in demand and pay big bucks.

Donating eggs can fetch $5,000 while rent-a-womb surrogacy can “net from $18,000 to $70,000, whatever the couple and the carrier agree to.”

Interestingly, there is a Catch 22: “not everyone qualifies as a donor, and women whose only reason to volunteer is that they're broke are often rejected.” So, if you really need the money, don’t bother to apply.

Furthermore, egg donors must be non-smokers, which is understandable, but they must also agree to take injections of fertility drugs, hopefully not to the degree to produce a litter as the Californian octuplet mother.

The Boca Fertility IVF Center “once had only one catalog of donors. Now there are two binders with a total of 100 donors. They include blondes, brunettes, whites, blacks, Asians, even Jewish women, who used to be difficult to find.” As the economy deteriorates, genetic engineering or selective breeding could be on the rise.

"O wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is!
O brave new world!
That has such people in't!"

(Shakespeare's The Tempest from which Aldous Huxley derived the title of his famous novel).

Economists, meet the Bioethicists.