Written by Aaron Cheung.
The shift from market economy to market society has been nothing short of extraordinary. If you can imagine a commodity, you can probably find it available. In this day and age, there are companies out there you can pay to write an apology letter to someone if you cannot find the right words for yourself. There are auctions selling the permit to kill a rhino in the name of animal conservation. In both examples, a certain itch can be felt, perhaps signalling a reaction to the purchase of an unusual commodity.
What about organs…? Do we, as individuals, hold the right to sell our functioning organs?
One argument may say that we all have a choice and if we feel like the money is right, there should not be a governing body to stop us. And so, if the law allows for us to do so, what would manifest in our society as an outcome? And who would put their organs on the market?
The most unsettling possibility to an organ market is the chance of coercion. The most vulnerable and disadvantaged people in society would see the financial benefits selling their organs could bring. Some may say they have the freedom to choose whether to follow this route and no one is physically forcing them. But the harrowing reality for many would be that the only way they can provide for their families and escape poverty and deprivation is through selling their organs.
It is like asking someone to either give you their sweets or buy you some: they do technically have a choice, but it is not a 100% real choice.
What about our human rights?
Would this not breach our human rights ‘Article 4: Prohibition of Slavery (Universal Declaration of Human Rights)’? We may not necessarily be entirely owned by another person but are our organs, our physical representation, not becoming labelled as property with price tags? Our perception will begin to change, as the value of one is not measured by our moral compass nor our altruistic decisions, but rather by which organs can be sold and at what price. To monetise our body would simply be inviting the commodification of self.
Another example which can be applied to understand the errors of legal organ selling is prostitution, the selling of one’s body for sexual activity. If prostitution becomes legal, every person will have the right to monetise their body. They can earn money and choose when or when not to engage in the activity. However, what about the rise in gangs and pimps who financially and physically oppress sex workers for their own benefits? The backlash to legalising prostitution in Germany stands testament to this. Just like exotic sports cars, individuals become commodified by their owners.
The same will surely apply to organ selling, whereby gangs force people, often society’s most vulnerable, to sell their body parts. With this in mind, the question we should be interrogating is not ‘what can money buy?’ but rather, ‘what should money not be able to buy?’.
To allow such a practice to become marketable, would we not be submitting to the commodification of self? If we can no longer preserve our bodies from becoming objects, is any part of us left sacred?
In many respects, this practice would only promote inhumane and degrading treatment: issues strictly prohibited in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 5. Although the theoretical reality of organ selling may mean more individuals are able to access the vital replacements they require, a self-interest driven motive cannot be the solution. It would not only raise the issues highlighted above, but also the potential of poor-quality organs being harvested as organised groups attempt to maximise profits from the system.
In the case of organ demands and objects alike, an altruistic incentive seems the most sensible solution. Only when monetary considerations are removed from the equation can we ensure quality organs are being passed to those in greatest need.
Aaron is an independent blogger with an interest in human rights leading him to contribute this piece. His own blog can be found at: www.walkfordays.wordpress.com