An apparently illegal surrogacy ring has been busted in Thailand. The company, which called itself “Babe 101: Eugenic Surrogate” was using young Vietnamese women for both gestation and egg donation, and seems to have been aiming primarily at the Asian market, charging $32,000 for a baby with the gender and ethnic background of your choice. They were also explicitly targeting women who didn’t want to give birth for cosmetic or convenience reasons. The surrogates were not allowed to leave the (relatively comfortable) compound unaccompanied, and had their passports and money were confiscated and held by management. This is the kind of place where human germ-line engineering will start in a few years.
Further developments in India’s commercial surrogacy market. As the government mulls more detailed regulations, existing rules are already being neatly side-stepped. For instance, sex-selection is not permitted in India, but it is in Panama, so the embryo screening is done on the isthmus, with those selected forwarded to the subcontinent for implantation. Egg banks in India now stock a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds from international donors. It’s a baby smorgasbord. Gattaca, here we come!
Womb for Rent
Surrogate pregnancies are becoming common in India. For roughly the cost of having your own baby in the US healthcare system, you can outsource the task of giving birth to a Gujarati woman. It sounds like there’s a wide range of conditions, some less ethical than others. Is it okay to pay someone the equivalent of 10 years worth of wages to bear your child, so that they can give their daughters good dowries? The mind boggles. How long until you just upload the two genomes you’d like intertwined, and pick up the baby at the airport 9 months later? Or even better, maybe someone could take care of them in a well organized creche until about age 5, when they’re all potty trained and interactive. Choose from our vast selection of native languages and cultural indoctrination schemes! All the benefits of having kids when you’re 25, without the negative career impacts. Operators are standing by.
Markets and Morals
A good talk from Chautauqua on the interaction between markets and morals. Some interesting examples of morally ambiguous markets: countries paying one another to take on refugee acceptance obligations and the outsourcing pregnancy to impoverished surrogate mothers in Gujarat, India. Sandel argues that in the last few decades we have gone from having a market economy to being a market society. Markets are now a large portion of our governance, and it’s unclear whether this is really a good thing.
Links for the week of October 15th, 2009
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Continue reading Links for the week of October 15th, 2009
What is Human
The utter primacy of H. sapiens in all the theistic religions is one of the things that bothers me most deeply about them. I believe we are unique and unusually important amongst life on earth (as were the first oxygenic photosynthesizers, and the first eukaryotic organisms, and the first macroscopic multicellular life forms), but I don’t think that the earth without humans would be without value. Diminished, certainly, but still a precious place. By the same token, I think that we diminish the value of the earth by causing the extinction of other species.
I think this may actually be somewhat related to the abortion question, and the difficulty of coming to any kind of common ground on it. I don’t consider non-viable fetuses human, but to me that doesn’t mean they are without value, or undeserving of any kind of legal protections. I just don’t think those protections should be as extensive as our protections of humans. People are resistant to the idea that “humanity” is a continuum. Some might even say repelled by it, but it seems inescapable to me. I also believe that severely mentally disabled people are “less” human, and that a brain-dead human is, for all intents and purposes, a cell culture with no more moral value than a side of beef. This might seem like something we had better not talk about, since it starts off all kinds of slippery slopes to horrible places, but I think eventually, we will have no choice, because some time in the next few decades, or at most the next few centuries, we will be confronted with positive deviations as well as negative.
What will it mean to be human, when there exist super-humans? When some portion of the population is genetically or cybernetically enhanced, will they have super-human rights, privledges, and responsibilities, or will they simply be more powerful through extra-legal means?
A person, even a politician, can stand up for human rights while condoning abortion if they do not consider the fetus human. The core of the abortion argument is what does it mean to be human? Is it a discrete, or continuous classification? Unless we can come to some consensus on these questions, the abortion issue, and many others, will remain vexing indefinitely.