"Commodification and Commercial Surrogacy" by Richard J. Arneson

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The article "Commodification and Commercial Surrogacy" by Richard J. Arneson raises many of the same criticisms and concerns of Elizabeth Anderson's "Is Women's Labor a Commodity?" as I had in the previous blog post, but the author also brings up several points that I had not considered. Arneson argues that commercial surrogacy (CS) is not "baby-selling" because one cannot truly own a child in the same sense that one can own a toothbrush, house, or vehicle. With property the owner has the legitimate right to dispose of it or use it as desired. However, as I touched on in the previous post, with one's pets or children one does not have any right to dispose of them or use them to any end, and instead is required to provide at least a level of basic care. Also, all persons involved in an exchange must consent to the exchange, but since an infant cannot consent the transaction necessarily requires some regulation to ensure that the child is not wrongfully harmed.

Another interesting point that Arneson raises is that Anderson's argument fails to identify why women's labor is unique in regards to being a noble labor where performance for pay is degrading. Many other types of work considered to be noble are also regarded as appropriately done in exchange for money. Its seems to me that work as a doctor is a noble pursuit which is not considered particularly degrading when done for pay. So are there significant differences between the two labors? I'm not really sure, birthing a child definitely seems more physically and emotionally invasive than a doctor's average daily work would be. Is that enough of a distinction? Again- maybe, but I do wish Anderson had illustrated exactly why she considers women's noble labor to be uniquely degrading. Arneson then points out that Anderson fails to explain, that even if women's labor is degrading, why it is necessarily subject to moral condemnation and possibly legal prohibition. I find this to be a strong point because in cases where the general welfare of both the SM and the child are maintained (by either a fair and reasonable contract or government regulations), I see no reason why the degradation of the SM should result in justifiable moral condemnation. Even if such a scenario is less "good" than an ideal situation, that does not necessarily make it morally reproachable.


Arneson, Richard J., "Commodification and Commercial Surrogacy" in What's Wrong: Applied Ethicists and Their Critics, ed. David Boonin and Graham Oddie (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 340-345.

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This page contains a single entry by puch0022 published on December 21, 2012 12:19 AM.

"Is Women's Labor a Commodity?" by Elizabeth S. Anderson was the previous entry in this blog.

The Ethics of Gene Theft is the next entry in this blog.

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