Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Carolyn McLeod


Since the 1980’s, surrogacy has become a popular reproductive alternative for individuals experiencing infertility. The ethical and legal analyses of surrogacy have been rich and varied. Some bioethicists have charged the commercial surrogacy industry with the exploitation of global southern women or with the impermissible commodification of children and women’s reproductive capacities. Others have praised the potential for economic empowerment and bodily autonomy that surrogacy may accord to women. However, throughout these explorations of the ethics of surrogacy, comparatively little attention has been paid to the moral status of a crucial actor: the fertility doctor. Without doctors willing to provide prenatal and postnatal care to surrogates and make use of assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs), commercial surrogacy would not take place. Yet, doctors’ involvement in surrogacy is far from morally neutral. In my thesis, I aim to explore what duties doctors have in the context of commercial surrogacy. To do so, I take up the framework of fiduciary obligation. I argue that doctors have fiduciary obligations to surrogates, and that these obligations shape if and when doctors can ethically facilitate surrogacy.

My thesis is divided into four chapters. The first defends the view that the doctor-patient relationship is fiduciary in nature. The second chapter extends this view to the realm of commercial surrogacy, arguing that doctors also owe the surrogates they treat fiduciary obligations. The third chapter addresses a challenge posed by my view, namely that surrogacy seems to place doctors in positions where they constantly face conflicts of interest, and are therefore unable to uphold their fiduciary duty of loyalty to surrogates. I address this concern by arguing that conflicts of interest are not inherent in surrogacy, but that surrogacy arrangements must be substantially rethought in order to safeguard the doctor-surrogate fiduciary relationship. The final chapter considers the obligations doctors have to the children they help create through surrogacy and through assisted reproduction more generally.

Included in

Philosophy Commons