Nation of Beancounters

The rebuttal to “poor people aren’t free, therefore we shouldn’t let them sell organs”

Posted in Uncategorized by Navin Kumar on September 18, 2011

From David Friedman, talking about gestational surrogacy:

Why would anyone be against the arrangement? In many cases, it makes it possible for a couple to have a child—their own child—when they otherwise could not. Even in those cases where the biological mother could bear her own child, why should anyone else object if she can find another woman willing to do it for her on mutually acceptable terms?
There are, I think, a number of possible answers, although none that in my view justify the restrictions. One is that the decision to be a host mother is not freely made since it is “compelled” by poverty. This sort of argument is common in a variety of contexts, but I find it hard to make any sense of it. Put in its simplest terms, the claim is that if the potential host mother does not accept the offer she will starve to death, hence accepting the offer is not really a free choice, hence she should not be permitted to make it. Which, if the starting point is correct, means that out of our generous concern for a poor woman we will compel her to starve to death.
Full article here. I’ve always held that in the absence of a scenario in which freedom to sell one’s body and freedom from poverty were mutually exclusive options (i.e. we’re providing the prostitute with a job but can’t if prostitution is legal) this argument – that the poor aren’t free – is incoherent, semantic rubbish. Since the two aren’t ever mutually exclusive in my experience (you can offer the prostitute a job), people who invoke “they aren’t really free to choose” – on the context of sweatshops, surrogacy, prostitution or organ sales – are doing nothing to help the poor.
I highly recommend the article to my debater friends – it’s full of excellent arguments.
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2 Responses

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  1. DR said, on October 6, 2011 at 10:36 pm

    But is it the best choice or the most optimum? Or the preferred? Think from the “normal” human’s perspective. Would you rather blog about economics for money or would you sell a kidney? And if you say it’s a “special” situation, you’re limiting choice is some way.

    • Navin Kumar said, on October 7, 2011 at 12:04 pm

      I’d much rather blog for money (if only!). And I’m sure most other people would rather do any number of things than sell a body part.

      But if the list of things are small (and for poor people, they are) and you need money urgently – for food, an operation – and no government organisation or non-profit is around to give you help, then you selling a kidney may well be the optimal solution. And why should the squeamishness of other people (people who aren’t helping you) prevent you from doing that?


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