Is it ethical to hire sherpas when climbing Mount Everest?

By Emily Largent

In “Is it ethical to hire sherpas when climbing Mount Everest?,” a short piece out today in the British Medical Journal, I suggest that the question of whether it is ethical to pay sherpas to assume risks for the benefit of relatively affluent Western climbers is a variant of cases–common in medical ethics–where compensation and assumption of risk coincide.  Consider offers of payment to research subjects, organ sales, and paid surrogacy.  As a result, medical ethics can offer helpful frameworks for evaluating the acceptability of payment and, perhaps, suggest protections for sherpas as we look forward to the next climbing season on Everest.

I owe particular thanks to Nir Eyal, Harvard Medical School Center for Bioethics and Harvard School of Public Health Department of Global Health and Population; Richard Salisbury, University of Michigan (retired); and Paul Firth, Department of Anesthesia, Critical Care and Pain Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital.

Take a look and let me know what you think.

Emily Largent

Emily Largent

Emily Largent is an Assistant Professor of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the Perelman School of Medicine. She also teaches at the University of Pennsylvania LawSchool. Her research examines ethical and regulatory issues arising in human subjects research and when integration of clinical research is integrated with clinical care; she has a particular focus on Alzheimer’s disease research. Emily received her PhD in Health Policy (Ethics) from Harvard and her JD from Harvard Law School. Prior to that, she received her BS in Nursing from the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing and completed a fellowship in the Department of Bioethics at the National Institutes of Health.

One thought to “Is it ethical to hire sherpas when climbing Mount Everest?”

  1. Nice article, EL. Other instances of this same general phenomenon:
    Is it ethical to hire construction workers to work at the top of tall scaffolding, or alongside speeding traffic?
    Is it ethical to pay football players to smash heads for our entertainment?
    Is it ethical to pay healthcare workers to expose themselves to needle pricks or pandemic influenza?
    I think that counterfactual reasoning is key to understand the consequences of the hire/don’t decision (i.e., are they better off without the job). Then, I think that the most important questions are about how we can make their jobs reasonably safe. Rarely is the best option — for the worker or the society — to eliminate the job.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.