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Exploitation in International Paid Surrogacy Arrangements

Journal of Applied Philosophy

Published online on


Many critics have suggested that international paid surrogacy is exploitative. Taking such concerns as its starting point, this article asks: (1) how defensible is the claim that international paid surrogacy is exploitative and what could be done to make it less exploitative? (2) In the light of the answer to (1), how strong is the case for prohibiting it? Exploitation could in principle be dealt with by improving surrogates' pay and conditions. However, doing so may exacerbate problems with consent. Foremost amongst these is the argument that surrogates from economically disadvantaged countries cannot validly consent because their background circumstances are coercive. Several versions of this argument are examined and I conclude that at least one has some merit. The article's overall conclusion is that while ethically there is something to be concerned about, paid surrogacy is in no worse a position than many other exploitative commercial transactions which take place against a backdrop of global inequality and constrained options, such as poorly‐paid and dangerous construction work. Hence, there is little reason to single surrogacy out for special condemnation. On a policy level, the case for prohibiting international commercial surrogacy is weak, despite legitimate concerns about consent and background poverty.