When Is It Baby-Selling?

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Money and Adoption

Mention "money" in the same sentence with "adoption" and you're sure to get a wide range of reactions. Private infant adoption in the U.S. is often the target of attack, and the crux of the criticism is usually the amount of money that changes hands and for what purpose. International adoption isn't exempt either. The same program from the same country can cost different amounts with different agencies. Questions are raised about money that goes to "undetermined" recipients in a foreign country and, more disturbing, money that may be given literally in exchange for a child.

Baby-selling and baby-buying are illegal. They're illegal in the U.S. and other western nations, they're illegal in industrialized countries and in underdeveloped countries. But while some practices fairly scream "illegal," others may be more difficult to condemn, even though they fit the definition, and still others may be seen as "business as usual" in some places and buying or selling elsewhere.

Let's consider several scenarios:
  1. A family in a poor region of an even poorer country has more children than they can feed. They have another baby - a girl - and are prepared to cause her death in some fashion - not an uncommon occurrence. They are offered $50 (an enormous sum for them) for the baby by someone who will deliver the baby to someone - or a series of someones - who will arrange for the baby to be placed for adoption at a cost to adopting parents of upwards of $15,000.
    • Is this baby-selling, baby-buying, or baby-saving?
    • If it is baby-buying/selling, is the U.S. agency working with the in-country agency a "conspirator?"
    • If it is baby-buying/selling, what responsibility do adopting parents have, if any?


  2. A large agency has several domestic infant adoption programs. Costs vary widely depending on the baby's racial or ethnic background, and reasons given include a greater difficulty in placing the children in the lower cost program.
    • Is this setting a price on children based on "market value?" If so, is it a form of baby-selling?
    • Or is this reasonable business practice?
  3. A private attorney works with one client to place a newborn for fees totalling $30,000., including birthmother expenses, but no papers have yet been signed. The attorney is contacted by another client who, when learning of the first situation, expresses a willingness to pay total fees of $40,000., and the attorney places the child (same child) with the second client.
    • Is the attorney involved in baby-selling?
    • Is the second client involved in baby-buying?
    • Or is this reasonable practice?
These scenarios are based on stories that have been reported in the press, with variations and embellishments on my part. And if you were looking for my answers, the only thing I can guarantee is that there will be disagreements in each and every instance, no matter how clear-cut each of us may think each situation appears.

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