My body: Property, commodity or gift?
DOI link for My body: Property, commodity or gift?
My body: Property, commodity or gift? book
The body has become big business. With the rapid expansion of transplantation of organs and tissues, the development of cell technology and the hope of ever new therapeutic marvels from targeted pharmaceuticals, the body and its parts have become of increasing interest to the health care industry. We have seen the emergence of what Andrews and Nelkin (2001) have called the ‘body bazaar’, in which all forms of human tissue gain commercial signiﬁcance. At its extreme this bazaar is also bizarre, not to say macabre, reminiscent of the historical trade in dead bodies so well described by Ruth Richardson in Death, Dissection and the Destitute (1987). For example, just before Christmas 2005 it was discovered that the leg bones of the journalist Alistair Cooke had been removed from his corpse and sold for more than $7,000 to a company making dental implants (Waltz 2006; Scheper-Hughes 2006). Clearly the Cooke case is an extreme example, involving absence of consent, deception and (possibly) theft.1 But what if there had been full consent by Cooke prior to his death and no deception? Would it be ethically acceptable for people to include as part of their legacy authorized sale of their bodily ‘assets’? It could be their most valuable asset and could perhaps relieve the concerned dependents from destitution! And, if this would be acceptable after death, why not equally during life? Can we ethically view our body and its parts as a tradeable resource, to be removed and sold for ﬁnancial gain, if we so choose? This question needs to be resolved before we consider (in Chapter 3)
debates about a market in human organs to meet the organ shortage or (in Chapter 4) the global market in human tissue fostered by the biotechnology industries. In what sense, if any, is my body also my property? And, if it is rightly so regarded, can it then be used as a tradeable asset of mine, akin to my other possessions, such as my house or my car? On the other hand, if we consider trade in bodies or their parts to be morally wrong, then we must explain why it is regarded as morally acceptable to donate them – what is the nature of the moral distinction here? These are the questions to be considered in this chapter, using as a moral guideline the concept of the embodied self expounded in Chapter 1.