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Free-Market Babies?

LONDON – Does India need a new independence struggle? The fight this time would not be against British colonialism, but rather against the United Kingdom’s approach to regulating reproductive medicine. At a time when India is considering a sort of matchmaking service for Western couples seeking to hire Indian surrogate mothers, the UK government has announced the abolition of two leading medical regulatory agencies.

Meanwhile, as these countries move farther down the road to free markets in reproductive medicine, France is debating all of its bioethics laws – and continuing to stand up for a different model, focused on social justice and protection of vulnerable women. There is an alternative simply to letting the market decide, the French Assembly insists.

At some point, many countries are likely to find themselves embroiled in similar debates and controversies over reproductive rights and obligations. So it is necessary to clarify what is at stake in how we regulate – or de-regulate – in vitro fertilization (IVF), egg sales, and surrogacy.

It may come as a surprise to American observers, in particular, that the UK approach could be considered “free market.” After all, the UK forbids outright payment for eggs, whereas in the United States, a highly differentiated market has grown up around “consumer demand.” And the UK has a national regulatory agency for IVF, whereas the US has a patchwork of state regulations (or a lack thereof).