I am an organ donor. I have signed the little box on the back of my license, and have even sent the paperwork into my local borough. If anything happens to me, my internal organs are up for grabs for whoever needs them. I've never really thought about what that meant, before. But recently, in a bioethics class I'm taking, we discussed organ trafficking and organ donating. That got me thinking about this whole concept, of giving my organs to another person. And, more specifically, why it seems to taboo to sell your organs. In my class, we are working through a book on Muslim medical ethics. In one particular article, the black market of organs in Egypt was analyzed. Without going too much into Islam and the religious basis of the fatwas made, Muslim scholars generally agree that organ donation is permissible as long as the recipient will, without a doubt, benefit from the procedure, the donor remains unharmed, and the donor will receive no form of compensation for the donation.
That is the meat of the matter. In Muslim theology, paying for an organ is considered "forbidden" by most. And there are laws in many other countries making organ selling illegal. What is it about the money that makes organ selling so taboo, so wrong, theoretically? Of course, black markets exist globally, and it seems as if it is a fairly well-known fact that people do indeed buy organs if they have the means to circumvent the system and avoid waiting on long recipient lists. But the fact that the laws exist indicated that, although people will do what they deem necessary to survive, including the purchase of a needed organ, in theory, that very act is something that we thought it necessary to make illegal. There is something about getting money for a body part that makes us uncomfortable.
I am going to try to avoid any religious discussion and reasoning. The discussion of the Muslim fatwa was an example to show the universality of the sentiment. So, thinking outside the realm of religion, what is the reasoning? The laws make me think that there is some sort of tacit universal agreement that something about the body is sacred, and that it should not be treated the same as material things. Our bodies are living things and house "us", whether you believe it's a soul or a spirit or anything else. Our bodies are part of our identity, and are a large part of how we define ourselves. They have pulses, blood, breathe in and out, are warm, and are under our complete control (barring diseases and maladies that affect our control). I don't know if anyone else thinks like this, but when I go over "my" body, I ask myself, "Is this my body?" As in, do I own it? It's a difficult question to answer. In my mind, I do have this body. It is mine and no one else's. But, at the same time, I didn't design this body. I didn't create it. I did not carry out an act and receive this body as a prize. And in that sense, this body is not "mine", "mine" being something I myself made, created, earned, deserved, or otherwise cause the existence of. And for me, that is where, I think, part of the answer might lay. While this body is, for all intents and purposes, a part of Meryn Robinson, I feel uncomfortable with selling my organs because it is the same as receiving a gift I don't deserve. Since I didn't "make" these organs, why should I be able to get money for them? The money would be for something that wasn't created by me, wasn't a result of my efforts or innovation, and so would not be earned.
There are so many other reasons that would cause nations all over the world to make selling organs illegal. What about people that can't afford to buy them? What about the social and economic impacts? What would the impacts be if organ selling suddenly became legal worldwide? What are the religious reasons? How do the different religions handle the selling of organs? Do some people "deserve" organs while others do not?