Kidneys for Sale ?

We had a long discussion in my Property class about the ownership rights over one’s body.

In a landmark case in 1990, the Supreme Court of California decided that in most cases we retain zero property rights in things that leave our body (w/ exceptions). In other words, we own our pancreas when it is inside of us, but once it is out, we have zero control. In the case, a man had a rare cell line that was ultimately used for ground-breaking research. Years later, when the man found out that his line was potentially worth billions, he sued. The court ruled that the man had zero rights over the cells once they were removed from his body during leukemia-related surgery.

The ramifications of the ruling were far reaching. IF the court had decided otherwise, two big areas would have been left open: (1) Medical researchers might have the impossibly arduous task of confirming ownership rights over each and every cell that they use ; (2) The sale of one’s body parts might be lawful.

It was a fascinating discussion. I’m curious about your thoughts on the second potential ramification.

Should we be able to sell our kidneys?

We’ve got two. We can live with one. Thousands die each year in waiting.

What do you think?

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3 comments

  1. Imagine the situations people could be in:

    “Yea, so I owe this guy 30 grand – how many organs can I sell and still be alive? Do I get a bonus because I’m only 27? and male? and I don’t do drugs? Do I need ALL of my lungs – I think I’ve got big ones…My family’s known for expensive bodies.”

  2. A variety of factors would obviously need to be ironed out. That’s what markets do.

    Not arguing that it is necessarily a ‘smart’ decision in all circumstances.

    But should they be allowed to make that decision for themselves?

  3. My concern is that I’ve heard two main arguments against it: Poor people will start selling their body parts AND the human body is sacred.

    But I wonder…

    1) Should we say that poor people in rough circumstances aren’t smart enough to make decisions about their own body?

    AND

    2) Is it the role of the government decide the sacredness of the body? Should they control what is and isn’t done with it?

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