Baby Business: Surrogacy, Child Harvesting, And Gene Customization

Photo courtesy of comedy_nose via Flickr. 

Despite overpopulation concerns, newborns are always in high demand. 

Baby business is profitable, though sometimes sketchy. There are a number of options for prospective parents with fertility issues, including adoption, surrogacy, and even “baby factories” – none of which are without their ethical issues or controversy.


Adopting a child is all about providing a home to a baby or child in need. Except, as goes for most businesses, it is also about profit, which can complicate matters. In fact, adoption (and child welfare) is a $13 billion dollar industry.

Costs are an average of over $30,000 for a domestic birth mother’s newborn, $2,250 for adoptions through foster care, and over $40,000 for international adoptions.

Both domestic and international adoption agencies have been criticized for influencing mothers and potential parents according to their own quotas, rather than the parties’ best interests, and putting excessive prices on babies to meet market demands.

It’s also been the case that social workers underplay a child’s difficulties, resulting in horrors for the adoptive families, as detailed by the Guardian.


Likewise, surrogacy is a lucrative business, in America and internationally. Hiring a woman to carry and deliver a baby requires significant compensation, not only to the mother, but to the agency, the reproductive law attorney, and hospital.

Photo courtesy of bradbrundage via Flickr, modified by Curiousmatic.

As the Washington Post notes, surrogacy is also often a matter of race and class, with businesses targeting poorer women with greater financial needs to give birth – what some view as exploitation and commodification.

America is second only to India in surrogacy, where it’s a booming enterprise known as “reproductive outsourcing,” desirable to an increasing amount of foreigners at only a third of US prices, according to the NY Times.

Child Harvesting

While some adoption and surrogacy details may verge on unethical, true illicit and criminal happenings come to light in regards to child harvesting, or “baby factories.”

In May of 2013, a raid in Nigeria discovered seventeen pregnant teenagers, all fertilized by the same man in a baby-selling scheme.

Nigeria is second only to China in human trafficking, and babies born are either sold for up to $6,000, used for child labour or prostitution, or even killed for rituals, the BBC says.

Designer Babies

Lastly, new advances in science and technology mean those with money will be able to design their future children, assigning traits through DNA.

Internationally, it has become common for wealthy Chinese to hire American surrogates for immigration rights (child has American citizenship) and “designer babies” with genetically ideal traits (tall, intelligent), according to the International Business Times.

designer baby2
Photo courtesy of Senor Zozo via Flickr, modified by Curiousmatic.

What’s more, a patent was recently granted to company 23andMe Inc for a technology that would help future parents hand pick traits in donors’ DNA and “build” a baby either through surrogacy, in vitro fertilization, or artificial insemination.

Some say such practices are too close to eugenics (notably practiced by Nazis). Child customizations would not be without its benefits, however: in terms of health, it could be used to prevent genetically predisposed diseases in children.

What are your thoughts on the sketchy sides of baby business? Tweet us @curiousmatic.

Jennifer Markert