Philosophy | Problems in Social and Political Philosophy
P345 | 25450 | Shapshay

Topic: Exploitation, Commodification and Freedom in Bioethical
Issues Today

This course will deal with two main clusters of issues in bioethics
which raise difficult and interesting philosophical, ethical, social
and legal questions regarding the exploitation and commodification
of persons.

The first cluster of ethical issues we will deal with concern global
poverty and the black market in kidney sales: There is currently a
growing, worldwide black market in kidneys that is, without a doubt,
highly exploitative of people in desperate situations around the
globe.  To deal with this problem, some have called for a regulated
market in the sale of kidneys to ensure safety of the kidney
vendors, and to ensure a fair price and fair treatment.  Whether
there should be such a regulated market raises fundamental questions
about global justice, responsibilities for global poverty,
exploitation, freedom and paternalism.

Second, the class will discuss ethical issues in reproductive
medicine, including the burgeoning, and highly profitable market in
infertility treatments in industrialized countries today.  In most
countries there is a legal prohibition on selling babies and on
prostitution. Is there a morally significant difference when one
sells the necessary component parts that become babies (sperm, eggs,
embryos) or when a woman contracts to become pregnant and rents
one’s womb out for about nine months? The baby business has been
hailed by some as an advance for reproductive freedom but detractors
argue that some things ought never to become commodities.  What
exactly is objectionable about such commodification? And where
should the line be drawn?

Additionally, wealthy parents can avail themselves of genetic and
reproductive technologies to go beyond treatment of infertility in
order to choose (to a large extent) the genetic traits of the
children they will have.  The use of genetic testing and genetic
abortion raises the specter of eugenics.  Are these personal genetic
selections objectionable?  Are they objectionable in the same way
that state-mandated eugenic programs of the 20th century were?  Will
unequal access to these genetic reproductive technologies further
exacerbate inequalities, leading, perhaps to a “genobility”?

During the course we will also view Stephen Frears’ 2002 feature
film “Dirty Pretty Things” and several documentaries.

Warning: This course deals with themes that might be quite
disturbing to many people including sex, sexual exploitation,
exploitation of the poor and vulnerable, and so on.  We will discuss
these themes through the lens of ethics and political philosophy, in
an effort to explore and understand their moral dimensions, but this
class will dwell on much unpleasantness in the world today.

Readings include selections from:

Nussbaum, M.  Sex and Social Justice.  New York: Oxford University
Press 1999

Pogge, Thomas World Poverty and Human Rights Cambridge: Polity Press

Radin, M.J. Contested Commodities.  Cambridge: Harvard University
Press. 1996.

Sample, R. Exploitation: What it Is and Why it’s Wrong.  Lanham MD:
Rowman & Littlefield 2003.

Institute of Medicine of the National Academies [IOM]. Organ
Donation: Opportunities for Action.  Washington DC: National
Academies Press 2006.

Justine Burley and John Harris (editors), A Companion to Genethics
Blackwell Publishing, 2002.
Buchanan, et al. From Chance to Choice Cambridge. Cambridge UP, 2000.