A critique of whole body gestational donation

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In her controversial paper, Anna Smajdor proposes that brain-dead people could be used as gestation units for prospective parents unable or unwilling to undertake the act themselves—what she terms whole body gestational donation (WBGD). She explores the ethical issues of such an idea and, comparing it with traditional organ donation, asserts that such deceased surrogacy could be a way of outsourcing pregnancy’s harms to a populace unable to be affected by them. She argues that if the prospect is unacceptable, this may reveal some underlying problems with traditional cadaveric organ donation. Smajdor’s analysis, however, overlooks several problems arising from WBGD. This paper provides an account of those issues and argues that, in addition to WBGD being viscerally unpleasant, it is also ethically unviable. The paper starts by providing an account of WBGD before acknowledging its negative response within traditional and social media. After arguing that such cursory and gut reactions are insufficient to reject the proposal outright, this paper then provides three concerns regarding WBGD omitted by Smajdor: (i) the co-opting of life-saving organs for reproduction, (ii) the discrepancy between using cadaveric organs to save a life versus creating one, and (iii) the universalization of feminist concerns regarding reproductive body commodification. The paper concludes by tentatively agreeing with Smajdor that considering WBGD may help reveal vulnerable assumptions regarding organ donation and surrogacy, but that the significant ethical issues raised may prove insurmountable and make the intervention—thought experiment or otherwise—untenable.




Gibson, R. B. (2023). A critique of whole body gestational donation. Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics, 44(4), 353–369. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11017-023-09637-z

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