Bioethics Blogs

The Ethics of Human Milk Exchange and Sale

Robyn Lee critiques the inequalities and social injustices that surround human milk exchange practices.

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Public milk banks provide human milk for premature infants because compared to formula feeding it is associated with lower rates of serious intestinal disease, a leading cause of illness and death. While public milk banks are very common in some countries, such as Brazil, there are only four currently operating in Canada. These are in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, and Montreal.

Public milk banks in Canada and the United States, are undersupplied and unable to meet high demand. As a consequence of widespread awareness of the benefits of human milk, some parents are trying to source human milk online through informal exchanges http://www.onlythebreast.com/; http://www.eatsonfeets.org/; http://hm4hb.net/. Public health agencies in Canada and the U.S. (along with national pediatric associations in those countries) have taken a strong position against any human milk exchange outside of milk banks, warning parents of the risks posed by transmission of pathogens and chemical residues. Nevertheless, the practice of human milk exchange is growing in popularity.

While some human milk exchange online forums such as “Human Milk for Human Babies” are based on sharing, others like “Only the Breast” also involve the sale of breast milk. Human milk has been described as “liquid gold” and costing “more than sushi” in media accounts because of its scarcity and high value. Human milk is becoming commodified and the high cost of obtaining milk may mean that access will be determined by socioeconomic status.

American biotech companies such as Prolacta Bioscience and Medolac have been processing human milk in order to create consumer products.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.