Tuesday, December 6, 2011

What Can You Sell?

If there is complete self-ownership, why should selling babies be illegal?

Suppose you think there should be a market in organs. Suppose you think prostitution should be legal.

Then why would adoption be allowed only as a donation? Why not pay women to have babies so other people can adopt them? We DO allow surrogate motherhood. In fact, you can pay a surrogate mother a lot.

Where is the line between surrogate motherhood and payment for adopting a baby? Is the fact that there was a prior agreement really that much of a difference, ethically? If a mother can sell an unborn baby, on a future contract, why can't she sell a baby at 1 month old? A year old? Fifteen years old? What is the principle that guides us here?

The LMM wants to know... Because a mother in Miami was just arrested for trying to sell her baby.

(Part Two, with some larger questions, tomorrow!)


  1. "If there is complete self-ownership, why should selling babies be illegal?"

    Because the parent isn't the baby. If there is "complete self-ownership", then the baby owns itself, and the parents are acting as trustees. And a trustee operates under more significant restrictions than an outright owner.

  2. Well, no, DD, that's not right.

    The parent DOES have full ownership, and I can prove it. If the parent wants to keep the baby, she can.

    And if wants to give the baby away, she can. So we have both control and the right to alienate, two important parts of ownership.

    Further, the parent gives the baby away without having any idea whatsoever who gets the baby. There is nothing illegal about that.

  3. No, the parents are more like trustees than owners. They can keep the responsibility, or arrange for it to be turned over to other trustees through appropriate legal channels, but they cannot profit from such a transaction.

    And while the parent can give the baby away, in most places it is a legal requirement to do so in a way that assures continuous appropriate care is maintained. A full owner can neglect or abandon owned property in a way that a trustee cannot neglect or abandon a trust.


Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?