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The Body Economy: Breast Milk in the Marketplace

The Body Economy: Breast Milk in the Marketplace


The Body Economy – breast milk in the
marketplace. Parents and experts alike know that breast milk is the best food
for babies, but when a parents own milk is unavailable, donor milk can be a
reasonable alternative. In Canada, there are four not-for-profit human milk banks.
Two of these ship milk across the country. For babies in hospital, our
publicly funded health care system covers this cost along with the cost to
pasteurize test and freeze the milk. Because priority is given to fragile or
very low birth weight babies, some people who can’t access human milk resort to
informal parents circles, social media and web sites to find their own supply.
I’m Francoise Bayless. I’m a bioethicist at Dalhousie University. Some websites
facilitate person-to-person free milk sharing or milk sales. Typically this is
for unpasteurized and untested milk. Others promote for-profit milk banks
where buyers pay between four and five dollars an ounce for pasteurized human
milk. Some parents could pay as much as $3,000 a month to feed their babies. For-profit milk banks in the United States pay women about one dollar an ounce for
their milk. We know that this can be coercive and risks taking advantage of
vulnerable people. Some women say they’re selling their milk to pay for an
uninsured birth or to have an income during unpaid maternity leave.
Because human milk can legally be sold in Canada, and because there’s a limited
supply, for-profit companies might want to set up shop here. This would result in
uneven and unfair access. Human milk should not be a market commodity
available only to select newborns. Canada should invest in a national altruistic
collection system, as well as more research and education to actively
promote safe access to donor milk for all babies in need. The decisions we make
in the body economy will have a fundamental impact on what we value and
who we are as human beings. Learn more at impactethics.ca and join the
conversation on twitter @thebodyeconomy

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