Think of a time in the future. Perhaps the not too distant future. You have come upon desperately hard times. So desperate you need a voucher for a bed in a hostel, where you will also be entitled to a meal. To obtain the voucher you have to pocket your pride and approach the Desperation Department.
Your turn comes to enter the cubicle for a computer interview. The computer asks the usual questions about your financial status and eligibility for assistance. Just when you think you have it in the bag, you are asked to respond to the following final questions:
Do you have a complete liver? Yes.
Do you have two kidneys? Yes.
A highly unlikely scenario? Think again. An article in this week’s Listener, ‘Affair of the Parts,’ quotes Auckland academic, Martin Wilkinson, (an ethics specialist) saying the sale of human organs should be permitted. He’s in good company.
In England, according to ‘The Independent’, May 24 2012, “leading surgeons are calling for the government to consider the merits of a legalized market in organs for transplant.” One of the stated reasons for creating a legal market is to discourage black-market transplant tourism. Another reason is the number of people who die for want of organs.
Professor Peter Bell, former vice president of the Royal College of Surgeons: “It’s time to debate it again. There is a shortage of organs.” He also said “It is reasonable to allow a kidney market and perhaps the sale of liver donations, although other body parts remain too risky.”
For the moment?
It should be no surprise that in a country where the sale of blood, sperm, and fertile eggs is commonplace, the view of the American Society of Transplant Surgeons is that, “Incentives for organ donations could provide enormous benefits for both recipients and donors.”
Professor Bell has suggested a fee of fifty thousand to one hundred thousand pounds for each kidney.
Desperately poor people in places like India and Pakistan have been selling their body parts for years. When you consider the extraordinary (unbelievable) changes to New Zealand’s social and economic structures in the last thirty years, it is no longer an outlandish possibility that we too could reduce poor people to this inhuman practice.
I’m astonished that an ethicist is in favour of selling body parts but not at all surprised that transplant surgeons are for it, particularly those in private practice. Surgeons are wonderful when we need them and many of them are highly motivated without the money, status and acclaim. But that is not the whole story. It is not unknown for surgeons to put their own interests first.
And why these two articles in the same week? What have the rest of us missed?
In my view the sudden desire to permit buying and selling body parts is about money and power, not concern for others. It is yet another market acquisition. A takeover of the moral dimension of medical intervention.