From In Vitro Babies to Skin Cell Maybes: The Shifting Landscape of Human Reproduction and Family Formation

The 2017 Baby Markets Roundtable

By Ayesha Chatterjee — August 14, 2017

Earlier this year, my OBOS colleague Sally Whelan and I were offered a seat at a fascinating table – the 2017 Baby Markets Roundtable, hosted at the University of Texas School of Law and co-sponsored by the Irvine School of Law at the University of California. Tasked to examine the different ways families are created and regulated, the Roundtable was an ideal venue to present Surrogacy360, our latest resource on international commercial surrogacy. As the landscape of assisted reproduction reshapes – from its early in vitro roots to babies now created with three parents to, in the future, babies potentially derived from human skin cells –  it was also an opportunity to learn from some of the sharpest thinkers on the block.

For just over a decade (the Roundtable celebrated its 10th circle around the sun in 2016), an interdisciplinary group of scholars and advocates has met every year to explore shifts in family formation. At each Roundtable, this cohort has tackled thorny issues related to the evolving status of children, parents, surrogates, and grandparents, as well as the legal and social constructs that shape their individual roles and our collective norms in child custody, child-rearing, and family planning.

The 2017 gathering was true to original intent. It focused on pregnancy, abortion, adoption, and surrogacy. The discussions – steeped in science and spanning the legal, social, cultural, and political – dived into complicated questions such as the role of video consent in in vitro fertilization; the regulation of abortion after Whole Woman’s Health versus Hellerstedt, a landmark 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of abortion access in Texas; the ethics and issues with disclosure in adoption and surrogacy; the relationship between intimacy and commercialization in surrogacy within the Mexican context, where the practice grows and regulation is in flux; and, more broadly, definitions of family in an era of gamete donors, gestational mothers, intended parents, and “brokers.”

While it is impossible to cover the length and breadth of all the threads, it is clear that a revolution in human reproduction – the likes of which we have never seen – is here, offering more options to some and placing others at risk. More than ever, gatherings like the one described are critical for their technical and legal rigor and response to a multi-billion dollar service sector that is pushing science and ethics to breaking point. We thank the organizers and the participants for their stick-to-it-iveness for over a decade.

Holding the feet of the service sector to fire, however, also requires we challenge ourselves and others. Roundtable regulars have done this from the start, creating a safe space to generously share and respectfully comment on one another’s questions and conclusions. This model is as unique as it is valuable. Human conundrums posed by assisted reproductive technologies cannot be addressed by some – or one. They affect all of us in different ways and, thus, rely on the kind of science and strategy that is only possible when we collaborate across the table.

And, for those of us who stumble through science and law, or cannot find ourselves a seat, organizations such as Our Bodies Ourselves are useful resources to lean on. For over four decades, we have brought evidence-based information on women’s health and human rights to communities around the world, in language that is accessible and centered around the experiences of people that need and want it most. This includes all the editions of “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” its single-topic offshoots and global adaptations, our website and blog, and our latest platform on international commercial surrogacy. To summarize a comment made by one Roundtable participant: we have the technical and legal knowledge, but organizations like OBOS are the ones to bring this knowledge to the public and drive social change.

With a sea change in reproduction underway, Our Bodies Ourselves takes this role very seriously. So, for more information, visit our websites (Our Bodies Ourselves and Surrogacy360), check out the Baby Markets reader, a compilation of papers from previous Roundtables, and, if inclined, gather around your own or another table to grapple and weigh in. Your voice is important and there is more than enough room.

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