To mark the 99th issue of This Week in Bioethics I decided to make a video version to accompany the written version. Take a few minutes to watch it and let us know what you think.

1. Surrogacy Legislation Debate in New Jersey

A bill that would legalize commercial surrogacy in New Jersey was advanced out of committee this week and is awaiting an assembly vote as I write.

New Jersey was the site of one of the earliest and most high-profile surrogacy cases, that of Baby M, in the mid-1980s. The result of that case was a ban on commercial surrogacy arrangements in the state.

Governor Christie vetoed similar surrogacy-enabling legislation in 2012 and 2015, but the new governor seems likely to sign this one into law should it reach his desk.

The truth is, the idea of trying to legalize and regulate surrogacy is entirely misguided. The practice should be banned, period. Many have been working tirelessly against this bill, and their efforts are very much to be applauded.

2. Stop Cross-Border Surrogacy Now

Writing from Bangalore, India, Olinda Timms calls attention to the ever-moving commercial surrogacy industry where we’ve seen this multi-billion-dollar per year industrial complex move from India to Nepal to Thailand to Cambodia to Mexico to Ukraine and on and on.

Timms writes that we need to treat “cross-border surrogacy and third party reproduction as a global health and human rights issue.”

It is a matter of global injustice that women and children of one country can be exploited and commoditised by citizens of another country in pursuit of parenthood. An international declaration by an agency such as WHO will send the right message against exploitation of women in low-income countries, demanding appropriate legislation in this area. It would ensure that reproductive services are not commercialised; also that altruistic surrogates and donors are from the same country and jurisdiction as the intended parents, protected by appropriate legislation, healthcare, insurance and information.

In other words, Surrogacy is an international problem in need of an international solution. We couldn’t agree more.

If you haven’t signed the Stop Surrogacy Now statement, please do so today. The more weight we can put behind efforts to abolish (rather than regulate) surrogacy, the sooner we will put an end to this practice.


3. Ethics and Technologies

Given what seems to be an increasing awareness of — if not outright frustration with — the perils of technologies of all kinds, the New York Times reports that colleges are stepping up their efforts “to bring a more medicine-like morality to computer science.”

“We need to at least teach people that there’s a dark side to the idea that you should move fast and break things,” said Laura Norén, a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Data Science at New York University who began teaching a new data science ethics course this semester. “You can patch the software, but you can’t patch a person if you, you know, damage someone’s reputation.”

Of course, this is even more important where computer science and software intersect with health, medicine, healthcare, biotechnology, and the like.

This is similar to the work we are doing in our Paul Ramsey Institute, bringing together early-career professionals and graduate students with experienced scholars in order to inculcate not just specific ethical views but a way of doing ethics that focuses on the full flourishing of not only the individual patient but also the greater human family. 

4. Transhumanism is Having a Cultural Moment

Wired magazine looks at the TV shows Altered Carbon, Black Mirror, and Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams, which all have transhumanist themes. While ideas like consciousness uploading, switching bodies, and radical life extension have been part of science fiction, speculative fiction, and dystopian fiction for a long time, we do seem to have entered a new era. Some of these ideas are coming to seem more possible, perhaps even probable, and special effects and storytelling are bringing these technologies to our screens in a visually compelling ways.

The article has an important takeaway that certainly echoes our view:

the roller coaster of emotions these shows elicit ought to be a major signal to audiences that now is the time to be thinking about the cost of pursuing technological immortality

Indeed, ethics are embedded the whole way through, from the kinds of technologies we choose to pursue — which implicitly means we are foregoing pursuing other things — to the ways in which we go about pursuing them, the ways in which they are designed, implemented, and used.

5. End of Life Debate Continues in New Zealand

A member of New Zealand’s Parliament who chaired an inquiry into end of life issues last year in a recent speech highlighted a number of reasons why euthanasia should not be legalized in the country. Among those issues is one that receives too little attention in these debates, namely elder abuse.

Already in this country, we have harrowing elder abuse, many instances of which are hidden. This law will lead to violence, psychological and physical. The elderly will feel they are a burden. Someone once said, “Where there’s a will, there’s a relative”. It’s naive to think that all families are loving, caring families. Unfortunately, we are opening up a public-safety issue for the elderly.

His speech is comprehensive and forceful, and it is well worth your time to read the full report of it.


Next week will mark the 100th issue of This Week in Bioethics. Let me know if you have ideas of how I can mark this auspicious occasion!

This Week in Bioethics Archive

Photo by Ryan Johns on Unsplash flickr.