Should Human Organs Be Legally Sold?

Discussions about whether or not the implementation of the legal market of human organs should take place have a considerable number of involved scholars and stakeholders. Scholars’ works cover a plethora of aspects within the scope of the issue. However, there is a distinguishable split in the academic dimension about the acceptance of organ selling. Some argue in favor of such an action, and some are categorically against. The first camp follows mostly economic needs, while the second is more likely to use ethical imperatives. In this paper, the position against the legalization of organ trade will be accepted as the author finds ethical arguments more convincing and consistent.

Nevertheless, today, a supply of transplantation organs does not meet a demand, which leads to an increase in healthcare difficulties and even lethal consequences. With this in mind, humanity needs to find a solution to the described situation, but creating the legalized streams of commodified people parts might not be an appropriate one. Thus, a coherent discovery of the arguments for and against the selling of human organs may be a relevant action to undertake.

The first aspect that might be crucial to cover is the international legal position on organ trade. Provisions contained in the sources of the international law state that selling human organs ruins the basic principles of the organization of modern global society and, thus, cannot be legally accepted at the international level. Campbell, referencing to the formulations of the World Health Organization (WHO) that organs cannot have a monetary value, calls such a position “the international consensus” that consistently condemn trading in human organs (166). Nevertheless, there is a country where organ selling has been officially permitted since 1997 – Iran (Moniruzzaman 284).

Moreover, a plethora of illegal black markets of organ trade prosper despite the direct legal bans and restrictions as such a business is very profitable. It might be assumed that despite “the international consensus” on banning organ trade which prescribed in multigovernmental agreements, a lot of profit-seeking stakeholders tend to violate the mentioned principles. Could this violation be considered an appropriate one in the long term if international society will legally accept it?

Here, the ethical aspect of the possible legal organ market will be discussed. Campbell states two reasons that organ selling is unethical: first, “the unacceptability of treating the body or its parts as market commodities”; second, “the inequality between the buyers and sellers in such a market” (167). The first argument might be quite conceiving as, despite the modern tendency to commodify everything, the human body is not just a container of alienable parts but a receptacle of consciousness and personality. Furthermore, if human parts are considered as a commodity, the trend to consider humans themselves as a potential source of income might appear.

The second argument may also be persuasive due to a coherent train of thought and logic. The sellers of their organs are in a more vulnerable position if to compare to the buyers’ one. They are in a pressing lack of money and ready to sell even the parts of themselves. When buyers get a chance to overcome a dangerous disease and prolongate their life, sellers harm their organism and might get health complications after the transplantation operation.

As mentioned above, in this work, the ethical aspect has a higher priority in comparison with the other ones. However, some different visions of trading organs might also have some convincing ideas and evidence. For instance, Elias et al. find that people increase their “support for a market-based solution to the organ shortage” if “verifiable information about its potential benefits” is provided (364). Then, Sönmez and Ünver provide a completed mathematic model of “market design for living-donor organ exchanges,” involving “altruistic donors via exchange chains” (681–690). The scholars’ main argument is a necessity in increasing transplantation organs supply as the number of people who require them is rapidly growing.

Moreover, some countries, like Egypt, have a difficult economic situation that leads to the appearance of human organ black markets that additionally harm such economics (Wilkens 271–272). So, it might be assumed that the creation of a legalized organ market may be a solution within the scope of the economic aspect. Nevertheless, such action is opposite to the mentioned ethical arguments and, then, cannot be considered as an appropriate one.

However, even if trading in human organs cannot be accepted legally – because of the ethical provisions – there is still a demand in increasing transplantation organs so that alternatives should be found. Campbell proposes three possible ways to overcome such a crisis: dispose of current restrictions on a voluntary donation, “increase deceased donation rates,” and prevent the necessity for transplantation organs (172). These three processes might not instantly solve the problem, but, in the longer term, may improve the situation considerably.

It seems reasonable to assume that, according to the ethical argument, human organs should not be legally sold. Economic arguments may be persuasive, but, in this work, they are considered unethical; thus, they cannot be acceptable. However, increasing demand in transplantation organs takes place and, hence, should be met to prolongate the life of the ones in need. To that end, three possible alternatives to organ selling legalization were listed.

Works Cited

Campbell, Alastair V. “Why a Market in Organs is Inevitably Unethical.” Asian Bioethics Review, vol. 8, no. 3, 2016, pp. 164–176.

Elias, Julio J., et al. “Sacred Values? The Effect of Information on Attitudes toward Payments for Human Organs.” American Economic Review, vol. 105, no. 5, 2015, pp. 361–365.

Moniruzzaman, Monir. “Spare Parts for Sale: Violence, Exploitation, Sale.” Understanding and Applying Medical Anthropology, edited by Peter J. Brown and Svea Closser, Routledge, 2016, pp. 277–285.

Sönmez, Tayfun, and M. Utku Ünver. “Market Design for Living-Donor Organ Exchanges: An Economic Policy Perspective”. Oxford Review of Economic Policy, vol. 33, no. 4, 2017, pp. 676–704.

Wilkens, Kimberly. “The True Cost of Selling Your Organs on Egypt’s Illegal Black Market”, Journal of International Business and Law, Vol. 17, no. 2, 2018, pp. 267–287.