Collaborative Reproduction

The first moral questions we’ll address in this section arise only because we have developed certain reproductive technologies.  When babies were made the ‘good ol’ fashioned way’, we didn’t have to worry about which individuals responsible for creating a baby incurred which responsibilities, and whether there was anything wrong with paying people for certain reproductive services.  But now we have lots of such questions, regarding the concept and role of ‘parenthood’, the gamete ‘market’, and exploitation, among others.


October 21

To get started, let’s think a little about parenthood and genes.  Dr. Karen Stohr helpfully differentiates between several kinds of parents in this first video, and helps us to think a bit about whether there is a right to parenthood in the second.



While this conceptual clarity could be helpful even without collaborative reproduction, it is indispensable given the way reproductive technology has allowed the number of contributors to a child’s creation to grow.  If you are interested in thinking more about parenthood, you may want to read this really excellent Stanford Encyclopedia article on parenthood and procreation (especially sections 3 & 4), although this is not a required assignment.  To see how complicated the ‘parenting’ process has now become, let’s turn to the practice of gamete donation, introduced by Dr. Stohr in the next video.


So not only are we increasing the number of people in various ‘parenting’ roles, but money is changing hands.  Is that okay?  To see how far this commodification of gametes has gone, read this wild article from Harvard’s student paper, The Crimson.  Does a college student fully appreciate the process and impact of egg donation?  Jessica Cohen, in this article in the Atlantic, suggests that she might not.

Not only might one worry about the amount of money involved in cases like this, but we might worry, also, about the reason that so much money is offered in particular cases.  Why are the eggs of a Harvard woman, or the sperm of a starter on the Georgetown basketball team, worth more than the average person’s?  The fantastic writer Liza Mundy raises exactly that question in this article from the Washington Post.

That’s a lot of issues raised, just because gametes are being ‘donated’ (bought and sold) for reproductive use.  But we’ve only scratched the surface.  What if prospective parents not only need gametes, but also a womb?  For next time, we will add surrogacy to the list of reproductive services.


October 23

Commercial surrogacy has taken off in the United States, and in much of the world.  This makes any questions that we already had about collaborative reproduction even more complicated, as surrogacy involves payment — not for (or at least, not just for) gametes, but for the intense, long-term service of gestation.  Again, we’ll kick off this discussion with a short video by Dr. Stohr:


Like with many issues, perhaps it is a bit too easy for us to discuss surrogacy in the abstract, without fully understanding what the current practice looks like.  Fortunately for us, a fantastic documentary has been made about the collaborative reproduction market, with a focus on ‘outsourcing’ surrogacy.  So before class, watch the complete movie Google Baby below, and read just this one essay on the question of exploitation in surrogacy practices.

Use your NetID to login and watch the film.

(This is copyrighted material and this video is intended for use only by students enrolled in PHIL-105 and will only be available for the duration of the course.)