This essay responds to Trading-Off Reproductive Technology and Adoption: Does Subsidizing IVF Decrease Adoption Rates and Should It Matter?, in which I. Glenn Cohen and Daniel L. Chen analyze what they describe as an arm-chair principle called “the substitution theory”–the claim that facilitating treatment for infertility, including subsidizing in vitro fertilization (IVF), decreases adoptions. Cohen and Chen venture well beyond the arm chair, closely interrogating the substitution theory both normatively and empirically and concluding, contrary to the substitution theory, that IVF subsidies do not decrease and might actually increase adoptions.
Returning to the arm chair, this Response offers two different perspectives. First, we use a family law lens to focus on important elements of Cohen and Chen’s analysis, both explicit and implicit, including adoption, IVF, genetic connections, reproductive autonomy, and gender. We show how these elements are shaped by the authors’ assumptions, prevailing legal principles, and our culture more generally. Next, we use an economic lens to reveal how mandated subsidies for IVF produce varied conduct, depending on the preferences and resources of those who would consider adoption and IVF. Approaching Cohen and Chen’s analysis from these two different vantage points demonstrates that arm-chair theorizing, properly done, can illuminate the relationship between IVF and adoption.