The $100,000 Baby

By Kallie Fell, CBC Research Associate

A report on: The One Hundred Thousand Dollar Baby: The Ideological Roots of a New American Export

fake $100,000 bill with baby in center

What would you think if America’s favorite marketplace, Amazon, started selling babies to men and women who genuinely desired, with all of their heart and souls, to become parents? These are good people who would treat their purchases like family, for a lifetime.

What do you think? Do you think this is absurd? Should markets exist where men, women, and couples have the opportunity to buy parentage? What if these markets already exist? In his newest publication, The One Hundred Thousand Dollar Baby: The Ideological Roots of a New American Export, David Smolin, claims that they already do.

In his article, Smolin boldly states that America is “actively building worldwide markets in children” and “a primary present manifestation of this worldwide market is surrogacy.” We at the Center for Bioethics and Culture agree. The main purpose of David’s publication is to elucidate the mainstreaming and promotion of markets in children and to encourage readers to research and resist such markets.

David’s article starts with an important review of the law and economics argument for markets and parental rights and how artificial reproductive technologies, like surrogacy, contribute to the acceptability of this argument. David writes, “what was once perceived as radical has become increasingly plausible.”

How Did We Get Here?

So how did we go from radical to plausible? David answers this question by pointing to the left. He states that the “political, legal, and cultural left in the United States has long critiqued the ‘traditional patriarchal family’ bound together by heterosexual marriage and biological relationship” and the result has looked for ways of “decoupling sexual activity from pregnancy, pregnancy from birth, and biological procreation from social and legal parenthood.” The goal, David writes, “is to make procreation a choice unbounded by biology.”

The right to procreate then is “conceptualized as a right to a child, or at least the means of obtaining a child” and where there is a right, there is a law to accommodate it. Unfortunately, states like California have bought into this ideology and have successfully mainstreamed the one hundred-thousand-dollar baby. David writes, “the expression ‘one hundred thousand dollar baby’ aptly describes the California surrogacy industry, and indeed the industry where practiced throughout the United States. Cost estimates of a California surrogacy are in the range of $90,000 to $145,000, and so the expression may be conservative.”

David continues his paper by exposing the surrogacy industry in California, the United States, and beyond. Financially speaking, the United States is on the high-end of the surrogacy market, but still seems to be an attractive option to intended parents due to the deceptive perception that the United States has “stable legal systems explicitly supportive of commercial surrogacy” and is “well-regulated and trouble-free.” Under this charade, the American surrogacy industry advocates for global markets in children, even though experts and councils from other nations view surrogacy markets as explicit baby selling and child trafficking.

After reading David’s publication, it is clear that California, and America at-large, are “willing to allow practices that risk the life and health of surrogate mothers, and even the resulting children, if it serves the interests of the customer, the intending parents, and the intermediaries who profit from surrogacy” and are “willing to place women’s bodies under the dominion of intending parents and the industry.”

Resistance is Not Futile

So what can we do? David ends his publication with a crucial call to action; a call for resistance. His call to resistance is both beautifully and powerfully written, so I’ll leave his words here:


Resistance is not futile because there is something in human beings that wishes to perceive values beyond self-interest, market-variations, and economic benefit in themselves, others, and their most personal relationships. Indeed, resistance is not futile because most human beings are repulsed by primarily market understandings of family formation and parent child relationships…

If resistance were futile, jurisdictions that once were global centers for commercial surrogacy, such as Cambodia, India, Nepal, Thailand, and the Mexican state of Tabasco would not have chosen to limit foreign commercial surrogacies conducted within their territories. If resistance was futile, Sweden would not be actively considering a ban on surrogacy…

Resistance to markets in children will require exposing inappropriate rights and equality claims for what they are, which is the reduction of the conception and value and dignity of the human person. Resistance to markets in children will require courage precisely because there are good reasons for such markets, but of course, not good enough reasons to justify such a fundamental violation of human dignity.


We are thankful for David Smolin and his work. We are thankful to each of you who are interested in our work. Do you have courage to help us resist and #StopSurrogacyNow?

David Smolin is a professor of law at Samford University and is considered an expert in bioethics and biotechnology issues, reproductive constitutional issues, international children’s issues, as well as family law.

Graphic by Vecteezy