Gender and the Value of Bodily Goods: Commodification in Egg and Sperm Donation

By Almeling, Rene | Law and Contemporary Problems, Summer 2009 | Go to article overview

Gender and the Value of Bodily Goods: Commodification in Egg and Sperm Donation


Almeling, Rene, Law and Contemporary Problems


I

INTRODUCTION

Listing a child for sale in the local paper's classified section is unthinkable, and it is illegal for donors to sell organs in the United States. Yet fertility programs routinely recruit young women and men to "donate" eggs and sperm in return for financial compensation. Payments to women vary substantially, both within particular agencies and in different regions of the United States, but the national average is around $4200. (1) In contrast, payments to men vary little: all men who donate at a particular bank are paid generally the same rate, usually between $50 and $100 per sample. (2) This is a twenty-first-century medical market in reproductive goods, and it taps into longstanding debates in a number of disciplines about commodification of the body.

Many scholars have raised concerns about the economic valuation of bodily goods. In his classic study of blood donation, Titmuss compared the mixed system of paid and voluntary donors in the United States with the wholly voluntary, centralized blood-collection system in the United Kingdom. (3) He concluded that voluntary systems produce safer blood and are morally preferable to market-based systems, writing, "[B]lood as a living tissue may now constitute in Western societies one of the ultimate tests of where the 'social' begins and the 'economic' ends." (4) Regarding egg donation, Thomas Murray makes a similar point. He asks,

   Are children more likely to flourish in a culture where making
   children is governed by the same rules that govern the making of
   automobiles or VCRs? Or is their flourishing more assured in a
   culture where making children ... is treated as a sphere separate
   from the marketplace? A sphere governed by the ethics of gift and
   relationship, not contract and commerce? (5)

These abstract distinctions between economy and society, between commodity and gift, are common in discussions of commodification, but empirical research in economic sociology challenges the idea of a stark dichotomy between market processes and social life.

In terms of bodily commodification, Zelizer's historical analyses of the emerging market in life insurance, (6) the changing cultural and economic valuation of children, (7) and the social and legal interpretations of monetary exchanges in intimate relationships (8) each demonstrate the interrelationship between economic and noneconomic factors in market processes. Building on these empirical investigations, Zelizer formulates a sociological model in which economic, cultural, and structural factors interact to shape market processes. (9) She writes, "As an interactive model, it precludes not only economic absolutism but also cultural determinism or social structural reductionism in the analysis of economic processes." (10)

An exemplar of this approach is Healy's cross-national study of blood and organ donation, in which he demonstrates that variation in organizational structures in different countries results in variation in the rates of individual giving. (11) He concludes, "The individual capacity for altruism and the social organization of procurement are not separate questions but rather two aspects of the same process. As organizations create 'contexts for giving' they elicit altruistic action differently across populations." (12)

Although Zelizer's and Healy's research reveals much about the interplay between social and economic factors in markets for bodily goods, markets in children, blood, and organs, unlike those for eggs and sperm, are not strongly differentiated by sex. Certainly the "priceless" children in Zelizer's study are boys and girls, and the donors in Healy's study are men and women, but gender was not the focus of their analyses.

This raises a question: Does the social process of assigning value to the human body vary based on the sex and gender of the body being commodified? This question draws on a longstanding distinction in feminist theory between "sex," which is defined as biological differences between males and females, and "gender," defined as the cultural meanings attributed to those biological differences. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Gender and the Value of Bodily Goods: Commodification in Egg and Sperm Donation
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.