Answered Prayers


Debora Spar is a professor at the Harvard Business School who has studied the evolution of Internet technology from early, anarchic beginnings into a more mature and consolidated industry. In her new book, The Baby Business: How Money, Science, and Politics Drive the Commerce of Conception, she turns to reproductive technology. The science of baby making-in vitro fertilization, surrogacy, genetic engineering-has given rise to a global trade in sperm, eggs, embryos, wombs-for-rent, and in the services of a cadre of suppliers, technicians, middlemen, researchers, lawyers, third-party payers, and consultants.

Spar provides a revealing portrait of the size, scope, and rapid growth of the business. Take the most low-tech and profitable segment of the U.S. market: the fertility trade. The number of fertility clinics has increased from 100 in 1986 to 428 in 2002. Revenues from fertility treatment jumped from $41 million in 1986 to nearly $3 billion in 2002. Specialization and consolidation, either in the direction of high-end niche markets or high-volume mass markets, has also occurred. The fertility industry has spawned subsidiary businesses such as premium egg freezing and egg banking for the masses.

If the fertility business represents the mature and lucrative segment of the market, other segments-the screening of embryos for genetic defects or therapeutic cloning-are still limited to a relatively small...

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About the Author

Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, author of The Divorce Culture (Knopf), directs the Center for Thrift and Generosity at the Institute for American Values.