Since the first successful organ transplants in the 1960s, the debate on the ethical and legal worthiness of the practice and its commercialization has increased, with various individuals, groups and parties presenting different views for an against the practice.
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As biotechnology and medical technologies improve and increase in the efficiency of transplant, the demand for tissue and organs for transplant has increased rapidly, while the number of people willing to donate parts of their bodies has reduced significantly (Brahams, 2007). In this case, the demand for tissues and organs for transplant has superseded the supply, creating a state of shortage of organs.
In turn, this has created the need for commercialization of organs and tissues in order to increase their availability. Nevertheless, this has always been hindered by the ever-growing ethical debate on whether to accept or reject commercialization of human organs and tissues.
This paper presents a brief but in-depth review of the existing arguments for and against the commercialization of transplants. In the view of this paper, and from an ethical perspective, organ transplants should be commercialized, but strict laws should be established to avoid violation of human rights and other injustices associated with illegal trade in human cells, tissues, organs and bodies.
Proponents of the practice have argued that human life is worth protection possible. To protect human lives, the available knowledge, technology, expertise and resources should be applied.
As such, organ transplant is one of the most important and advanced technologies and methods with a high capacity to protect the lives of the transplant recipients (Brahams, 2007). They argue that as long as the donors are safe or have consented to the process, the transplant is legal and valid.
On the other hand, the opponents of the practice emphasize on the need to control commercialization of the organs because people are likely to sign consents not because they are willing, but due to other social and economic factors.
For instance, opponents argue that the increase in the demand for tissue and organs for transplants is relatively high, yet the number of people willing to sell their own bodies or parts of the body is relatively low. Therefore, the commercialization process will lead to an eruption of black markets for these organs.
The opponents argue that the legal systems in various countries are different and weak in some countries compared to others. Lack of an international justice system is evident, which means that in some countries with weak legal systems, the outburst of a black market will create and increase the rate of illegal harvesting of human organs and tissues (Brahams, 2007).
In addition, the environment will increase the rate of deaths through murder because removal of some vital organs such as the heart, kidneys and other tissues means the termination of the donor’s life. Opponents further argue that countries with high populations, low income and high rates of poverty, combined with poor legal and justice systems, are likely to be the principal sources of illegal organs, tissues and even human bodies.
The number of cases of human rights violations is likely to increase in these nations. In addition, the opponents argue that most victims will be infants, children, young people, the disabled and women from poor backgrounds. In fact, they argue that even parents in poor economies are likely to donate their children or relatives and neighbors.
Secondly, proponents of the practice argue that development of advanced techniques to counter the need for death of the donors is the key to a healthy process of organ and tissue transplant. They cite the example of the modern techniques that make it possible to draw portions of the liver rather than the entire organ, which means that both the donor and the recipient will survive.
They argue that discovery and advancement of stem cell technology is another example of a technique that will counter the need for whole organ transplant, especially where vital organs such as bone marrow transplants are needed (Boulier, 2003).
Nevertheless, proponents argue that even in the presence of such technologies, violation of human rights will be evident. They tend to argue that such technologies also create additional avenues for criminal acts such as sale of children and women to obtain stem cells, coercing women or enticing them with money to consent to the procedures as well as termination of pregnancies without proper procedures and consents.
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Position of the paper and ethical theories
From a theoretical point of view, it is evident that the process is important and normally and ethically worth if the right procedures and protocols are followed within the established laws and regulations. For instance, consequentialism normative theories tend to base their principles on the consequences of an action. The moral worthiness of an action is a subject of its consequences, whether they are “good” or “bad”.
A morally right action (or lack of an action) is the one that will have “good” or the right outcomes. In this case, the results will justify the means (Foot, 2009). According to state consequentialism, the ability of an action to contribute to the welfare of the society justifies its moral worthiness. In this case, if organ transplant benefits the society, then it is morally right.
On the other hand, utilitarianism holds that the aggregate happiness of the entire society justifies an action. An action is morally and ethically right if its overall impact creates or promotes the aggregate happiness of the people involved (Foot, 2009).
In this case, it is arguable that the happiness of the organ donors would justify the commercialization of transplants. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that the happiness is not aggregate because criminal harvesting of organs and human trafficking and murders are likely to erupt, which results into overall misery on the side of the donors.
Kantian theory and defense of commercialization of organ transplants
Thirdly, Kantian theory of categorical imperative seems to be the most applicable normative theory in this debate. According to this theory, humans have a single moral obligation derived from the principal of human duties (Foot, 2009).
The theory argues that if a principle is intrinsically valid and is good, then every person must obey it in all situations and circumstances. The moral act of a person is to behave in a manner that observes the moral law (Foot, 2009). The worthiness of an action and its results is subject to the rational pursuance of “means” and “ends”.
From the perspective of this discussion, it is evident that the moral worthiness of commercializing organ transplants is determined by the rational decisions that humans make to apply the technology and practice for the best of the society. Establishing strict laws to protect human rights and regulate organ transplant after commercialization is a rational decision.
However, the worthiness of the action will also be subject to our ability to abide to the laws for the best of the society. We must observe these laws because they are rational decisions, and our duty is to ensure that the action protects lives and benefits the entire society.
Therefore, organ transplants should be commercialized, but strict laws should be established to avoid violation of human rights and other injustices associated with illegal trade in human cells, tissues, organs and bodies.
Boulier, W. (2003). Sperm, Spleens and Other Valuables: the need to recognize property rights in human body parts. Hofstra Law Review, 23(2), 693-697.
Brahams, D. (2007). Kidneys for Sale. New Law Journal, 139(3), 159, 160
Foot, P. (2009). Morality as a System of Hypothetical Imperatives. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.