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Friday, September 30, 2005

Big bucks in human egg biz

Based on our discussion of human organ donation in Economic Freedom the other day, I found this article fitting.

The article talks about how egg donations are becoming very profitable in other nations such as India. Currently in the US it is legal for a woman to sell her eggs, but it is not legal for her to sell her kidneys. In other countries, such as the UK and France, selling human body parts is completely illegal including the sell of human eggs. The morality or lack of morality in the market exchange of body parts is not discussed in the article, but the fact that there is a lot of money that can be made by woman who are willing to sell their eggs is. The author explains that the demand for eggs is rising and as long as the monetary reward is sufficient their can always be an ample supply. “To sum up, the growing acceptance and use of assisted human reproduction techniques have caused demand for `donated’ sperm and eggs to outstrip supply, and medical professionals and others argue that monetary reward is the only way to recruit sufficient numbers of `donors’.” He also explains that there is a risk for women who choose to donate, but that the high price increases the incentive for women to take the risk.

The supply and demand of human eggs can easily be shown in a basic Supply and Demand model for a normal good. In fact is seems to me, that pretty much any body part could be seen as a normal good. So, what reason does the government have to ban the sell of body parts, but still allow eggs and sperm to be sold? From an efficiency perspective there is no externality, eggs are not public goods, and no monopoly exits in the supply of eggs. Therefore, there is no market failure that would justify government intervention.

The part in the article that I thought was the most interesting was, “Legal experts say that the moral basis for treating these body parts or products as commodities stems from the body-as-property view found in some strains of libertarian political thought, which holds that the body and its parts may be bought, sold or/and rented.” The author makes it sound so cold, like libertarians have no morals. He doesn’t mention that this thought stems from the idea of natural rights and economic freedom, which most Americans would support. Libertarians are not in the frame of mind to pass out judgments about morals or ethics. As Milton Friedman put it, “Indeed, a major aim of the liberal is to leave the ethical problem for the individual to wrestle with”. If there is demand and supply for a good, for a liberty perspective, the government has no right to pass laws against it if it is not harming another person. And by harm I am not referring to risk. The risk involved in selling eggs is something the seller is willing to take by choice. As I see it, according to the current laws, I own my eggs, but the rest of me I only “sort-of” own. I say sort-of own, because the government allows me to change my body if I want, but it doesn’t allow me to sell it.

Since the government ban on the sell of body parts is not justified by efficiency, liberty, or any other economic framework I can think of, I wonder how it is that in an “economic free” country it is illegal to sell most body parts. The only thing that I can come up with is that some laws are not approved based on an economic framework, but rather a religious framework. A framework where government tells people what sort of ethics they should have. It certainly doesn't sound like the type of government that was in the minds of the writers of the constitution.

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