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The Controversies of Marketing Human Ova: A Survey of the Ethics

Paper Type: Free Assignment Study Level: University / Undergraduate
Wordcount: 1088 words Published: 13th May 2020

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Overview of the issue

The International Code of Marketing was adopted by the World Health Organization in 1981 to en-sure that the marketing of human ova was carried out in an ethical manner, given the international recognition of the demand for conception and fertilization options. As Amy E. White argues in “The Morality of an Internet Market in Human Ova,” a variety of “unusual items have found a market on the Internet. … Among the more unusual items freely auctioned and sold over the Internet are human ova” (page 311). Despite the fact that many studies have revealed that babies born from surrogates have a higher mortality rate than babies conceived in conventional ways, the market for human ova has incited an aggressive international marketing campaign to promote such products, a campaign that has been fraught with factual inaccuracies and deception. “It remains common practice to procure human ova as egg donation even if the donors are compensated for their donation” (311). In fact, a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation exposé in 2005 revealed that marketplaces for human ova used the falsified research of a later discredited Canadian scientist to downplay the dangers of commoditizing ova. It can be argued that ‘‘Selling ova to another women is at once impossibility intimate and wholly impersonal, a connected but highly distributed process of exchange … cloaked in anonymity” (312). It is this anonymity that makes the selling of human ova so dangerous. The media has ignored warnings that such products exploit third world countries because of wealth disparities. Such exploitation has had well known consequences.

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This paper will explore coercion in the market for human ova—a decision to advertise and promote this product in spite of international criticism and several international studies that have reported the long term health effects. As White (2006) argues, it is be true in international organ trades that poor people are recruited for the benefit of more privileged donors, the same is not true of human gametes because the intellectually privileged are recruited with the sale of human gametes (p. 314). Through an application of model based ethical decision-making and a consideration of the concept of “utility,” it will be argued that business practices surrounding human ova are ethically questionable because these corporations has chosen to favour profits over the health of infants throughout the world. Indeed, vendors with advanced degrees or simply a pretty face can command a higher fee for their eggs. Some critics have raised concerns about this aspect of markets in human ova and the possible creation of children from so-called designer eggs (p. 318). Having established that marketers of ova should be held accountable for the company’s decision to promote its products in violation of the International Code of Marketing, the second part of this paper will consider who should be held responsible for such business practices. While some make argue that “Internet markets in human ova fail… [and selling human ova in] such markets are morally permissible” (p. 319), the shareholders of such companies are culpable for the corporation’s blatant disregard for the health and safety of the infants conceived in this manner.

Assessment of the issue

While it is inevitable that consumers face well-known health risks from the goods they purchase, it is dubious for a corporation to actively promote a product that the corporation knows to be dangerous or harmful to the health of its consumers, especially when those consumers do not expect to face health risks from the product. In Canada for example, which is “a country located in the northern part of North America” (Wikipedia), consumer expectations is what makes marketing human ova more reprehensible than producers who manufacture and sell products that consumers know, or ought to know, are harmful to their health (i.e., cigarette manufactures). While people who choose to smoke cigarettes may be expected to be cognizant of the health risks that they face because of their consumption of the product, it would not be reasonable to expect consumers (especially consumers in the third world) to realize the dangers of markets for human body material. However, as White claims, “owing to declining fertility rates in the Western world, falsified research data and unabashed dishonesty have created a vulnerable consumer base.” These falsifications are a central consideration in a company’s ethical decision-making model. Yet, it does not appear that companies marketing fertility products rigorously analyzed the potential for serious repercussions from the consumption of its products

The U.S. Fertility Rate Has Fallen During Periods of Economic Decline.

Some experts seem to be particularly attuned to the ethical issues of dishonesty and disregard for consumer well-being, although scant attention was paid to the fact that large-scale ova marketing firms have the ability to shape the corporate ethos of an industry. Just as the tone at the top of a corporation can greatly influence the way that employees behave, so too can the business practices of an industry leader effect the way that other companies in the industry construct their business models.

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It is clear that corporate leaders have demonstrated a pattern of wilful blindness to the issues that should have been a prominent aspect of their decision making process: consideration for the health and safety of consumers, and a critical analysis of the costs and benefits that would result from the promotion of the company’s products. As White claims, “to sell our gametes is to “trade something that is distinctively expressive of you and no other person in the world for money” (p. 317). However, it is not only those individuals who have been appointed to run the company that should bear the brunt of the criticism for this corporate malfeasance, as the shareholders ultimately control the company and have tremendous decision-making power when it comes to establishing the goals and practices of the corporation.



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