People who experience severe economic hardships sometimes consent to deals that many would not even consider. Examples include deals involving payment for sexual services, pregnancies, and kidney donations. Moreover, they may feel forced to accept deals on terms that few would accept. The term I will use for such morally challenging transactions is delicate deals. A feature of delicate deals is that even when they are entered into without fraud and coercion, many of us nevertheless find them objectionable.
Much of the literature on delicate deals has been concerned with characterizing their bad-making features. The vulnerable party is forced by economic necessities to engage in harmful deals, exploited, and involved in a practice of wrongful commodification. Although this line of research is important, it is unfortunately insufficient: it fails to inform us about what we should do, all things considered. Hence, they leave open questions, such as whether we should prohibit delicate deals or regulate them, and if so, in what ways.
The dissertation consists of two parts, an introduction and five papers.In paper 1, “The Bulldozing Fallacy,” coauthored with Ole Martin Moen, we argue that we need, when justifying prohibition of delicate deals, to avoid the bulldozing fallacy. This is the fallacy of believing that when people have a very narrow range of available options, we help them by taking away their preferred option in that range. To defend prohibition on grounds of the interest of the people engaging in the deal, one must be explicit about how removing the option will make them better. We propose six strategies for how to justify a ban that avoids the bulldozing fallacy.
In paper 2, “The Ethics of Emergencies,” also coauthored with Moen, we address our obligations to people in difficult circumstances. We explore whether we have special duties of assistance in emergencies and whether they generalize to other cases of need outside of emergencies. We defend a novel account of our duties in emergencies and show that it can be reconciled with many plausible moral theories. In the introduction to this dissertation, I show how the paper speaks to the issue of exploitation, price gouging and trades in emergencies, and the nature of our obligations in emergencies more generally, such as the ongoing coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.
In paper 3, “Sex Selection in India,” I address the issue of sex selection in India, a harmful and controversial practice that is caused by, and reinforces, gender discrimination. The Indian government has therefore banned the practice. Through a comparison between legal sex selection and its alternatives, I argue that the ban is unjustified because it makes the situation even worse for mothers and their daughters.
In papers 4 and 5, I defend a model of kidney provision where governments are the sole buyer of kidneys and kidneys are distributed according to need. In paper 4, “Why States Should Buy Kidneys,” I explore Cécile Fabre’s principled objection to organ markets: that they allow duty bearers to profit from doing their duty. This criticism, I suggest, fails to distinguish between different duty bearers. I argue that, when the collective is the duty bearer, it is not wrong to be paid to perform a service that it would be your duty to perform were it not for the collectivization of duties.
In paper 5, “Reframing Kidney Rewards,” I propose a new model for how to reward kidney donors. Many objections to kidney markets are rooted in the view that body parts are not ordinary market goods, and that the giving of a body part is an extraordinary act that is not properly valued through a market transaction. I show how framing a monetary reward differently makes a difference to its moral status, and that a prize is better able to reflect the extraordinary act of giving a body part compared to alternatives such as incentives, compensation or a competitive market price. In the introduction to this dissertation, I illustrate how this model can be used in other delicate deals. I suggest that a particularly good candidate for a prize would be to reward people who take part in early, risky, trials of a vaccine candidate against COVID-19.