Summary of Arguments
Organ transplants are a necessary lifesaving procedure, however, due to the limited quantity of available organs most people have to be placed on an organ donor list before they can receive a transplant. The end result of such actions is that it often takes a considerable period of time before an organ becomes available. Unfortunately, between the span of time that an organ is available and the point when it can be transplanted, the person that needed it may have already died. It is due to this that there is the current debate surrounding the possible commercialization of organ transplants in order to expedite the process for a person to get their much needed transplant. Those in favor of commercialization point to the fact that by doing so people that need the organs immediately would be able to acquire them when they need them. On the other end of the spectrum, those against commercialization point towards the unethical nature of selling organs to the highest bidder which would restrict the availability of a much needed resource to a select number of individuals that can afford it. Based on these two stances, this paper will tackle the issue of organ transplant commercialization. It is the assumption of this paper that the commercialization of organ transplants is highly unethical and should not be put into practice.
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Position on the Debate
The main issue with the commercialization of organ transplants is that this sets the stage for the creation of a “buyer’s market”. To better understand why such a development can considered as socially regressive and adverse towards the common good, it is necessary to take into consideration the concept of supply and demand and how it applies to organ transplants. The rules associated with supply and demand are concentrated on the concept of achieving an equilibrium wherein the amount of demand for a particular type of product is matched by the amount of supply currently in existence. However, creating an equilibrium is not often achieved and in the case of organ transplants there is far more demand than there is supply. In cases where demand far outstrips the supply of a particular product, the end result is often a considerable increase in the price of the product. It is within this context that attempting to commercialize organ transplants becomes unethical since the incredibly limited supply would result in an astronomical increase in the price of organs. The end result is that only people with sufficient funds (i.e. the rich) would be able to afford organs if such a practice were put into effect. From a socio-economic standpoint, such a situation would be normal given the current disparities between social classes and the finite nature of resources, however, from a medical ethics standpoint, such a process can be considered as abominable and in direct violation of common decency and morality.
Moral Argument- The Right to Life and Organ Transplants
From the perspective of Cohen (2012), organ transplants are intrinsically connected to an individual’s right to life and, as such, their commercialization should be considered an unethical practice. What must be understood is that unlike other forms of medical treatment (i.e. chemotherapy, medicines, IV bags, etc.) organs cannot be mass produced or created on the spot in a factory. The limited availability creates a unique medical circumstance wherein organs become an invaluable resource since a transplant can mean the difference between the life or death of a patient. It is from this perspective that the concept of “the right to life” comes into play. Cohen (2012) explained that since organs cannot be replicated, their disbursement and use within the medical profession is placed outside the context of price (aside from the surgery fee). While this may seem against the “for profit” nature of many medical institutions, what must be understood is that the reason behind this arrangement is connected to the very source of present day organs that go to patients.
The most common primary source of organs is usually from individuals that have organ donor cards and are willing to give their organs should they die. Other sources often come from family members or friends of the patient who are willing to do what they can to help their loved one. It is due to the charitable nature of the source of organs that are given freely for the sake of letting other people live that placing a price on the available organs was considered unethical. When taking the source of present day organs and the concept of the right to life into consideration, it can thus be stated that limiting organ transplants primarily to people that can afford it can be considered a direct violation of human rights as well as a violation of the trust that organ donors had given to medical institutions to utilize their organs ethically. Another factor involving the commercialization of organ transplants that was brought up by Stempsey (2000) was the fact that if people with organ donor cards knew that upon their death their organs would be utilized in a commercial venture with the patient having to potentially pay several thousand dollars for their organs, it is unlikely that they would donate organs in the first place.
Kolnsberg (2003) explains that the altruistic nature of present day organ donors is heavily influenced by the concept of contributing towards what can be defined as “the social good” (i.e. utilitarianism). This concept can be thought of as an individual’s contribution to society in order to make it better. Within this context, when taking into consideration the possible commercialization of organ donations, it is unlikely that people would continue with their level of altruism in giving up their organs after death if it was learned that a commercial entity would profit from it. The end result would be a rapid dwindling of available organs to the extent that the supply would be a fraction of what it is at the present. From this perspective, it can be seen that there is a distinct connection between altruism and organ transplants wherein the former is needed to keep the latter process going.
Normative Theories that Support Conclusion
Based on an assessment of the arguments given, it can be stated that natural rights and utilitarianism help to justify the position of this paper on organ transplants. For instance the concept of the right to life is a natural life theory and helps to justify why organs should be freely available. Also, the altruistic actions that bring about organ donation in the first place are a manifestation of utilitarianism. It is based on these theories and the arguments given that it can be stated that the commercialization of organ transplants is highly unethical and should not be put into practice.
Cohen, I. G. (2012). Can the Government Ban Organ Sale? Recent Court Challenges and the Future of US Law on Selling Human Organs and Other Tissue. American Journal Of Transplantation, 12(8), 1983-1987.
Kolnsberg, H. R. (2003). An economic study: should we sell human organs?. International Journal Of Social Economics, 30(9/10), 1049-1069.
Stempsey, S. E. (2000). Organ Markets and Human Dignity: On Selling Your Body and Soul. Christian Bioethics: Non-Ecumenical Studies In Medical Morality, 6(2), 195-204.