Biological Colonialism = Outsourcing Ethics

My pal William Hurlbut–formerly a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics–coined the term “outsourcing ethics.” Here’s what he means: When countries, companies, researchers, or individuals want to do something ethically questionable–but not near where they live–they go to developing nations or places mired in poverty where legal oversight may be nonexistent and the people so destitute and uneducated, they can be exploited almost at will.  

Outsourcing ethics is an apt term. I tend to call it biological colonialism. It’s wrong whatever you call it.

Outsourcing ethics/biological colonialism often extracts a heavy toll on its victims. For example, drug companies may conduct human trials in Africa that they can’t in the USA–as happened with pregnant HIV+ women and their babies in the 90s. Or people on a waiting list for a kidney may attend to Pakistan to buy one–regardless of the heavy health consequences to the seller who won’t have access to quality medical care if complications arise. Some even go to China knowing that the “donor” may be a murdered political prisoner such as Falun Gong, with one even writing a “comedic tour de force” about his exploits.

The IVF industry is a big time biological colonizer. Indian women are a prime resource in this regard for their gestational capacities–with terrible abuses recorded. Occasionally, the possessor of the rented uterus dies–as I reported here about a 2012 case. And now, another Indian ”gestational carrier”–the dehumanized term of the IVF industry for the surrogate mother–has died giving birth to a Norwegian baby.

The widower plans to sue. From The Local story:

An Indian man whose wife died after giving birth to a Norwegian couple’s surrogate child may sue the Norwegian state for damages within days, Dagsavisen has reported. Naeem Qureshi’s wife Mona entered a surrogacy programme to pay for his medical treatment, but suffered fatal complications during the birth. One of the twins she was carrying died shortly after birth but the other is now in Norway with its parents.  

Norwegian lawyer Shahzad Nazir, who is giving Qureshi him free legal aid, said he hoped the state would provide help without his client having to go to court. “We have sent a request to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and the Ministry of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion (BLD), asking them to provide financial and medical assistance to my client,” he said. “He is seriously ill and is constantly at the hospital.” In the letter, Nazir argues that the state is liable because although surrogacy is illegal in Norway, it provides a loophole allowing Norwegian couples to use it abroad.

So, Norway does not allow its poor women to be exploited by commercial surrogacy–the proper policy in my view–but is perfectly fine with allowing Norwegians of means to exploit the women of other nations. And a woman is dead, leaving a sick widower without support.

How is that different from a powerful nation expropriating a poor nations natural resources? It’s not. Outsourcing ethics, indeed. 


Wesley J. Smith — Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism.

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