Race, Health Care and the Law 
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Navigating Race in the Market Human Gamete

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Vernellia R. Randall
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 Hawley Fogg-Davis

Excerpted from Hawley Fogg-Davis, 'Navigating Race in the Market for Human Gametes,' 5(31) Hastings Center Report 13-21, 13-16 (2001) (footnotes omitted).

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.

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. 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? Are whites, who comprise the overwhelming majority of gamete consumers, morally justified in choosing the gametes of a white donor? 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. 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.' Race-specific gamete shopping underscores and extends Zack's point.

Assisted reproduction, as the name suggests, brings reproductive decision-making 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.

The unique problem of racial choice in the gamete market lies in how interpersonal racial choices are expressed. Noncoital reproduction requires people to articulate a race-based reproductive choice that usually remains unspoken in coital reproduction. The price tag attached to these racial reproductive choices enhances the publicity of the stereotyping. Explicit racial selectivity in the gamete market has the potential to uncover submerged racial biases that permeate the U.S. social terrain. But if we unearth these racial desires only to ignore them, thereby affirming them by default, then we end up sanctioning stereotypes of race-based familial structure. The fact that racially coded donor profiles exist and can be viewed by the public makes this practice part of our public consciousness. Hence, race-based donor choices are inextricably tied to public notions of the normative role that race ought to play in family formation.

My argument against this mode of racial stereotyping is not based in color blindness or a call for abolishing racial categories. Race can and should be a source of self-identification, and to some extent group identification, but it should never be overwhelming or fixed. What is needed, instead, is a way for individuals to mediate or navigate over the course of their lives between the racial categories ascribed to them and their own racial self-identification.

I call this theoretical concept 'racial navigation.' Racial navigation recognizes the practical need for individuals living in a race-conscious society to acknowledge the social and political weight of racial categories, while urging individuals to resist passively absorbing these expectations into their self-concepts. My objective is to maximize human freedom under the existential pressure of racial categories. While racial navigation begins at the personal level, I intend for it to guide interpersonal conduct in the market for human gametes and beyond. Before delving into the theoretical underpinnings of racial navigation, and demonstrating how it might mitigate the perpetuation of racial stereotypes in the gamete market, I want first to give a brief overview of how race is marketed in the business of paid gamete donation. . . .

 
Related Pages:
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Contact Information:
Professor Vernellia R. Randall
Institute on Race, Health Care and the Law
The University of Dayton School of Law
300 College Park 
Dayton, OH 45469-2772
Email: randall@udayton.edu

 

Last Updated:
 03/10/2010

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