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I’m writing a paper about “third party reproduction.” If you’re not familiar, this is what they call it when a person or couple decide to make a baby but involve a third party in the process, either as a source of genetic material or as a host for purposes of gestation. Surrogacy and artificial insemination are two of the primary examples.
Third-party reproduction is going to become a big bioethical debate over the next few years. It’s not a new thing, but the pressures to make it easier and cheaper are intensifying rapidly. The reason is obvious. Same-sex couples are creating a market for children. The fertility industry is looking to meet that demand.
I’ve been working on an analogy and I’m curious how it strikes people. I’d be grateful if people would tell me what intuitions they have about it.
Suppose we have an educated gentleman living in the antebellum South. He and his wife are unable to have children. This is a source of terrible grief to her. The gentleman isn’t racist, but he also isn’t a committed abolitionist; as a copious reader of history he sees slavery together with war, poverty, prostitution, political corruption, and a million other evils, as a part of the human story. It isn’t beautiful, but it’s a thing people do and he doesn’t feel personally called to interfere.
Since his wife so desperately wants a child, however, he sees an obvious solution. He goes to the local slave market and buys her a baby. He tells his wife if she loves him like her own she’ll find that this child can satisfy her maternal longings. She believes him, and they raise the baby as their son. When he reaches adulthood, they draw up the paperwork and formally emancipate him. They help him to find a job in the north where he can live and work as a free man.
How does this scenario strike people? Is it morally defective to acquire a child through a slave market, given the intention to love and nurture him? If so, can we find a morally significant difference between the couple that buys their baby from a slave market and the couple that buys their baby through a commercial surrogacy arrangement?Published in