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July 18th 2011 print

Bill Muehlenberg

The Manufacture and Commodification of Children

A hallmark of contemporary Western culture is an obsessive fixation on the wants and desires of adults, to the exclusion of all else. As long as individual adults are happy, who gives a rip about anything else, be it the rest of society, or even any children involved.

A hallmark of contemporary Western culture is an obsessive fixation on the wants and desires of adults, to the exclusion of all else. As long as individual adults are happy, who gives a rip about anything else, be it the rest of society, or even any children involved.

But most human choices and actions are not done in isolation, but will have an impact on others. And plenty of the new “reproductive rights” have a huge impact on others, especially children. Yet children are the real losers in the new reproductive technologies, with adult whims trumping the wellbeing of children.

We find three explicit examples of this in today’s press. The first concerns a brief item about a woman in Victoria who is selling her kids on eBay. Yes you heard me right. The story begins this way: “A Victorian woman is being investigated after she offered her children for sale on the internet. Police were called in last week when an auction notice appeared on eBay offering two children for sale. A Geelong woman was selling her son and daughter, both under the age of 10, to the highest bidder. Police tracked her down but she told detectives she was only joking.”

Yeah, some joke. The kids probably love it alright. As I said in one media interview, there are plenty of children, certainly around this age, who are struggling with issues of identity and self-worth and so on. To know that your own parent has put you up on offer like a used CD is certainly a concern and could well have a negative impact on these children.

The full details of the story are not yet in, so we don’t know if this in fact was a sick joke or even more sadly, the real deal. Either way it does not say much about the mother. But it is something we can expect to see happening more often I suspect. Kids can now be purchased as commodities, so why can’t they be sold as commodities a well?

The next two stories have to do with IVF. The first one has to do with winning a chance to get an IVF baby through the lottery. Here is how the news reports are covering this: “Experts have reacted with dismay to a plan by the organiser of the world’s first IVF lottery to bring it to Australia.

“The lottery, which experts have blasted for preying on desperate infertile couples and ‘demeaning human life’, gives ticket holders a chance to ‘win’ a baby. Thousands of £20 tickets will go up for grabs on July 30 in the UK, giving the winner £25,000 ($37,000) worth of fertility treatment to realise their dream of parenthood. The competition has the approval of Britain’s Gaming Commission.

“The prize includes accommodation at a luxury hotel, a chauffeur to take the winner to appointments and a personal assistant. The winner will choose their own fertility clinic, as well as having their fertility drugs and therapies paid for. And if the standard treatment isn’t successful, the winner can choose another way of fulfilling the deal, such as reproductive surgery, donor eggs or a surrogate birth.

“Lottery organiser Camille Strachan, who set up the fertility support group To Hatch after her own failed IVF treatment, said the competition would help relieve financial pressures on would-be parents. ‘Bringing this to Australia this year is at the forefront of my mind because I do get a lot of members from Australia and infertility is just as big a problem in Australia as it is in the UK,’ said Ms Strachan, who is also considering starting lotteries for expensive cancer treatment and aged care.”

This is not just the commodification of children but the commercialisation of the entire reproductive process. The truth is, IVF is an intrusive and intensive procedure, which often does not bring “success” after just the first cycle. And there are plenty of reasons why even in the best of cases we should be cautious about IVF. I highlight some of these concerns here and here.

Children are – or should be seen as – one of life’s greatest treasures, and not seen cynically as just some raffle prize or giveaway in some cheap contest. Beginning life in that cynical fashion cheapens their chances of a normal life. They may well struggle with issues of self-image and worth, knowing they were simply the product of a contest.

Life in general is already full of enough gimmicks without turning one of the great experiences into a trivialised affair. But again, this is just part of the way we have cheapened life, with our children becoming mere commodities and objects in an increasingly sick adult world.

A third example has to do with proposed changes to Australian IVF laws, allowing for gender-selection IVF. A review is now under way to see if the law should be changed to permit this. It appears to be yet one more move to cater to selfish adult lifestyles, instead of focusing on the wellbeing of children.

We need to recall that when IVF was first allowed in Australia it was only available to married couples who were genuinely infertile. Even that was a questionable move at the time, but things have changed radically since then, as the slippery slope has well and truly entered into all this.

Soon enough de facto couples were also allowed access to these IVF programs, and then more recently, lesbians and singles were granted access. Medical infertility gave way to “social infertility” in other words. Even those who are perfectly capable of having a child if they simply stick to the means given us by nature have now won the right to expensive and invasive assisted reproduction technologies.

Using IVF to now simply pick your child’s gender is simply more of this move to elevate adult rights above every other concern, and it is yet another case where children have simply become political guinea pigs in our attempts at radical social engineering.

Today it is selling kids on eBay, IVF lotteries, and gender selection. Tomorrow it will be what? One can only imagine – and cringe. Children are clearly the big losers here, and their fate will only further worsen as we allow adults to do whatever they want for whatever reason they want, irrespective of the consequences to others.

We should have heeded the warning signs two or three decades ago. Things now may be too late. But any society which calls itself civilised must do all it can to stand up for those who cannot defend themselves. What we do to our children will determine what kind of society we will have to look forward to. And at the moment things are not looking very promising.