Ethical Implications of Selling Human Organs

There has been a heated debate over the increasing practice of selling human organs for transplantation. The practice was initially regarded as a life-threatening act due to the risks to which the organ donors were subjected. Andre and Velasquez state that the situation has changed due to significant biomedical milestones that have improved doctors’ capacity to perform successful organ transplants. The biomedical breakthroughs have drastically increased the demand for transplantable organs with the supply remaining low, making it a lucrative business and ethical dilemma. Though many arguments have been advanced to support the act, selling any human organ for transplantation is unethical, as it contravenes the respect and rights of the donor besides violating the common good of the society.

Several ethical and legal concerns have been raised over the growing popularity of human organ selling. The highly debated act has attracted support and criticism in equal measures with every side of the conflicting groups, making attempts to support its perceptions. Generally, the ethical and legal issues are based on a variety of principles, including the principle of fraternal love, non-malfeasance, and free and informed consent. Other principles are respect to human dignity, integrity and equality, and the principle of common good and fairness among others (Flaman 1). Several scholars and medical practitioners argue in favor of the practice, giving substantial reasons supported by the need to protect human life. However, it is vital to give priority to human dignity, as affirmed by the Judeo-Christian perspective that all parts of the human body participate in human dignity.


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Proponents of the act of selling human organs for transplantation argue that as human beings, we have a moral obligation to save lives and to alleviate human suffering, whenever we are in a position to do so (Flaman 1). Medical reports from various parts of the world show that thousands of patients die every year due to their inability to get organs’ transplantation surgery. Patients who are in crucial need for a kidney transplant have to undergo painful and expensive dialysis treatments, as they remain hopeful to get kidney supplies. It is evident that providing an opportunity for an authorized commercial market for organs could end unnecessary deaths and suffering, as it would increase organs’ supply. This can be illustrated by the increase in the supply of blood and sperm due to the need to get some profit. Since many individuals willingly part with their organs for an agreed price, it will be possible for patients to get healthier and better-matched organs that they need. This would see a high rise in the number of transplants being done successfully. Andre and Velasquez argue that if there is a rise in the organs’ supply, the prices of organs will go down due to a market mechanism. The arguments portray the practice as ethical, as it is aimed at alleviating human suffering and safeguarding against unnecessary death.

A section of scholars has also used the principle of fraternal love or charity to justify their support for selling human body organs for transplantation. Based on this principle, the practice is aimed at helping others, while subjecting the donor to limited harm. In some cases, ethicists suggest that the practice does not violate the principle of the totality of the human body since the practices hardly destroy the functional integrity of the human body (Flaman 1). When looking at the situation on this ground, it appears that the principle of totality is not violated despite some loss to human anatomical integrity. For example, a decision to sell one’s kidney is justified on an account of proportionate reasoning, as an individual can function with one healthy kidney.

Those who are opposed to the sale of human organs argue that it is unethical for the society to adopt practices that may increase cases of injustice or violation of human rights. They contend the fact that the society has a duty to safeguard human life and devise ways of relieving human suffering. However, they suggest that the efforts made to execute the moral obligations should not subject others to an unfair treatment that lowers their human dignity. Based on the argument, it is clear that selling human organs for transplantation increases cases of injustice and violation of human rights, as the donors get exposed to health risks. Based on the principle of equity, all human beings need to be treated the same way as they have equal rights and value. The donor appears to be degraded to the point that little concern is shown for his or her life. In most cases, little is done in providing the donor with adequate medical care after showing kindness through organ donation. As such, the practice lowers the necessary respect that should be given to human dignity and subject organ donors to unforeseen complications.

Keyes presents an argument that ethical standards provide an equal right to life to every person. Accordingly, society needs to protect this right by initiating measures that can ensure that all people, irrespective of their financial status, have an equal access to medical care. Selling human organs for transplantation presents a notion that individuals’ ability to pay determines the buyers and the sellers of organs. People have varying economic needs that determine the ones with the urge to sell their organs. In this scenario, the rich become the ultimate buyers of the organs sold by the poor. It is unfair to allow a practice that only benefits the rich at the expense of the poor that have pressure piled on them to endanger their health. Some people also take advantage of the business by exploiting the poor that need to sell their organs for financial gain. This situation clearly shows a violation of the principle of non-malfeasance as a section of the society uses the practice for its selfish gain.

It is also important to note that people should have the right to enjoy their dignity, as well as freedom. It is unfortunate that the market in human organs results into several acts that violate individuals’ freedom and dignity. The business results in an unethical situation, where the poor are plundered and the ignorant are subjected to exploitation by the economically advantaged members of the society. The poor are highly desperate and ill-informed about their rights. It provides an opening for profit seekers to exploit them. Profit-minded individuals often seek consent from the poor that are compelled by their needs to sell their organs without adequate information about the consequences of their acts. The scheme is highly unethical as it makes vulnerable members of the society to treat themselves as commodities as others show disrespect to their rights for economic gain. By doing that, the principle of free and informed consent is violated as the less informed population gives consent out of ignorance (Matten 1).

In an attempt to justify the act, some people misuse the principle of a common good. Although society is shown to be benefiting from the practice; there are substantial costs that a seller has to bear regarding the potential health risks associated with their decisions. Sellers put their life to risk in case they are not given suitable safeguards through a guarantee of a decent medical care. If sellers’ health would be safeguarded, the cost-benefit argument would apply. Critics of the business argue that it can only make sense from a cost-benefit perspective if the ambiguous costs involved are ignored (Chia and National Council of Churches of Singapore 63).

To conclude, it is clear from this discussion that selling human organs for transplantation has both benefits and consequences. Making an informed judgment on ethical standards of the practice is only achievable after a careful analysis of the two perspectives discussed. Satz states that the need for organs for transplantation among patients will continue to grow with thousands dying every year. The ethical issues surrounding the selling of human organs remain alive. As suggested by Andre and Velasquez, people should make a choice between two sets of moral values. These are the value to prevent death and reduce human suffering and that of showing respect for human dignity and people’s determination to acquire human needs in a fair and equitable way. As justified by this discussion, the main ethical and moral obligations expected of human beings are violated by the act hence making it unethical.

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