Hannah Carnegy-Arbuthnott (UCL) - 2014-15 Students

Bodily Autonomy, Self-Ownership and Commodification

What limits are there to the ways we can legitimately subject our bodies to the market? What is wrong, if anything, with markets in prostitution or commercial surrogacy? I approach these questions from a liberal point of view – assuming that the role of a liberal state is to protect autonomy, what grounds could there be for the state to impose limits on the ways in which autonomous agents can transact with their bodies? Expanding on Jarvis Thomson’s notion of ownership over the body as First Property, this research aims to tease out the core similarities and differences between bodily self-ownership and property ownership, and the link between ownership and autonomy. The aim is to shed light on a conception of autonomy that can explain why there are grounds from a politically liberal perspective to impose certain regulations on commercial contracts over the body, and indicates what form various contracts over the body can legitimately take.

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