I was at a friend’s talk recently, where she defended the claim that surrogacy tourism is morally permissible. She pointed to the extent to which the women involved benefit financially, to the long-term gains to their families, to the relationships they form, and so forth. Some people just felt that even if an individual woman benefits, she is still being exploited.
This struck me as implausible. I’m inclined to think that if both parties on-balance benefit, the relationship is not exploitative. I considered a counterexample: what if the surrogate mother is only paid a dollar? Does that still make it non-exploitative? And I was inclined to say that such a relationship seems exploitative, but I realized that I was smuggling in some intuitions about the statistical risks of pregnancy. Well, not every surrogate mother is the statistical average. This made me think that perhaps certain classes of relationships could be considered exploitative, but not the individual relationships themselves. Thus, perhaps relationships of surrogacy wherein the mothers are paid almost nothing, such that on average they would not on-balance benefit, would be exploitative. Individual relationships would not be exploitative, but the class of relationships would. And then, perhaps, within the total class there would be sub-classes of relationships that were not on-balance exploitative: say, very healthy (i.e. low-risk) mothers with little by way of economic resources who benefit very profoundly from the extra income.