Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

Navigating Race in the Market for Human Gametes: When People Go Shopping for Gametes, Their First and Most Important Criterion Is the Donor's Race

Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

Navigating Race in the Market for Human Gametes: When People Go Shopping for Gametes, Their First and Most Important Criterion Is the Donor's Race

Article excerpt

Navigating race in the market for human gametes: when people go shopping for gametes, their first and most important criterion is the donor's race. In so choosing, they are making wrong and invidious assumptions about what race is. They are also assuming that their child will develop her sense of self within those parameters. The effect is harmful both for children and for society at large. People should be able to recognize racial categories as they construct their own identities, but those categories should not limit their self-identification from the very outset.

Since the first successful birth resulting from in vitro fertilization in 1978, ethicists have debated a wide spectrum of moral questions raised by IVF, including concerns about economic exploitation, profiteering, health effects on women's bodies, interference with traditional family norms, and children's welfare. (1) Yet these discussions rarely, if ever, address the racially selective use of reproductive technologies. Legal scholar Dorothy Roberts has documented a racial disparity in access to and use of reproductive technologies, pointing out that even though black women experience infertility at higher rates than white women, white women are twice as likely as black women to use reproductive technologies. (2) But no one has yet explored the production and reproduction of racial meanings within this newfangled market.

How do descriptive and prescriptive notions of race affect the economic behavior of those who possess the financial means, time, and cultural capital to pursue assisted reproduction? Conversely, how do the racial choices of gamete consumers shape contemporary notions of race? (3) Are whites, who comprise the overwhelming majority of gamete consumers, morally justified in choosing the gametes of a white donor? (4) Is same-race preference among black or other nonwhite gamete shoppers morally different from same-race preference among whites? Do cross-racial choices, such as a white couple's request for an Asian American egg donor, amount to benign or invidious racial discrimination? In sum, what role, if any, should race play in the selection and purchase of human reproductive tissue?

Race-based gamete selection raises two major, linked ethical issues. One is the harm that racial stereotyping causes to individuals, and the second is the public awareness that racial stereotyping is an accepted feature of this largely unregulated market. (5) Choosing a donor according to racial classification is based on racial stereotypes of what that donor is like, and of what a child produced using that person's gametes will be like, as well as the gamete consumer's own racial self-concept and racial aspirations. Race-gamete selection is tied to race-based desires in family formation. The dangerous subtext, or subliminal message, conveyed by race-based gamete choice is that a child created using the gametes donated by a racially designated person ought to adopt a race-specific cultural disposition, and develop his or her self-concept within those parameters. The net result is the constriction of individual freedom in forging one's identity.

Negative social repercussions also flow from this process of racial sorting. Naomi Zack argues that the white American family has historically been and continues to be "a publicly sanctioned private institution for breeding white people." (6) Race-specific gamete shopping underscores and extends Zack's point.

Assisted reproduction, as the name suggests, brings reproductive decisionmaking into public view. Racial choices made in this arena publicly reinforce and make explicit the routine use of racial discrimination in the choice of a partner for procreative sexual intercourse. It is not so much that the former is morally worse than the latter. Both operate on the level of racial stereotype, prejudging and weeding out certain individuals based at least partly on their ascribed race. …

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