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Underlying ethical concepts

Ruth Macklin bioethics

International surrogacy poses a challenge for us, because there are so many variables involved. What are the conditions in which the surrogate finds themselves? What are their rights? What are their alternatives?

Macklin makes reference to two international surrogacy cases. The first case involved a couple who had procured the services of an Indian surrogate. The surrogate carried twins but when the commissioning couple arrived after the birth, they only wanted one of the children.

The second case is that of Baby Gammy, who was born in 2011 with her twin sister. Baby Gammy was found to have Down Syndrome, and although there are conflicting accounts of what happened, the fact was that Australian commission couple left Thailand with only the twin who did not have Down Syndrome.

In this interview, Professor Macklin discusses international surrogacy in the context of the initial distinction we made at the outset of the course.

On Macklin’s view, rights and harms overlap in important ways. For example, failure to uphold a woman’s right to safe methods of family planning can oftentimes result in harm, as we know from countries were pregnancy termination is illegal.

Together, these two aspects of what constitutes a moral action can be a useful guide when deciding what to do in a particular context. When faced with an ethical dilemma, it can be useful to ask:

  • Who is being harmed?
  • Whose rights are being violated?

Hopefully, this will help clarify the moral issues involved.

For your discussion: Do you think the distinction between rights and harms is a useful one? Can you think of other contexts where it might apply?

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