Chapter 16 : Allocation of Resources

Section. 4 Readings   Organs For Sale? Propriety, Property, and the Price of Progress
Title: Organs For Sale? Propriety, Property, and the Price of Progress

Author: Leon R. Kass

Publication Info: The Public Interest, no. 107 (Spring 1992), pp.72, 76-82, 84-85 Copyright 1992, National Affairs, Inc.

Summary by Jason Chirichigno (SCCC 2002)

For Leon Kass, the issues of organ donation, organs as a marketable product and the future of humanity are intricately linked. According to Kass, organ donation is perfectly acceptable and should be encouraged. By the same principles the sale of one's organs should also be allowed, however, Kass points out that such an idea could send humanity down the wrong path. He begins his discussion with an overview of how society (ie culture) views the human body, corpes and possible invasions of the human body such as live donations. Kass feels that many of the present day notions about such issues are, "less carried by maxims and arguments, more carried by sentiments and repugnance" (p. 781). However, Kass is skeptical over why such sentiments and repugnance dominate thinking in regard to the human body. Kass says, "I am certain that the repugnancies that protect the dignity and integrity of the body are not based solely on strangeness" (p. 781). For Kass, such protections go much deeper, as he feels they (taboos surrounding invading the human body) could be protecting the roots of our humanity.

From Kass' initial discussion of culture and the body he moves into a rather complicated discussion of property rights in relation to the human body. "The analysis of the notion of the human body as property produced only confusion, one suspects because there is confusion in the heart of the idea of property itself, as well as deep mystery in the nature of personal identity" (p. 787). Essentially the conclusion is that if our body is our property then we have the right to sell our own property. Kass then switches from the ideas of property to that of liberty within our society and how liberty can be tied into organ donation and how ultimately, the sale of organs could do serious damage to this liberty. For Kass, liberty allows us to organize a society which fosters values of cooperation, respect and decency such that we can live together as a species. If we are allowed to sell our bodies Kass feels this will lead to our dehumanization. "We wonder whether freedom of contract regarding the body, leading to its being bought and sold, will continue to make corrosive inroads upon the kind of people we want to be and need to be if the uses of our freedom are not to lead to our willing dehumanization" (p. 783). The final two areas that Kass focuses upon are comodification and the price of progress.

Comodification deals with the concept of value. For Kass, the human body is similar to the emotion of love, it is, "incommensurable, not only morally but factually" (p. 783). For Kass, the selling of our bodies is essentially selling who we are, and this can only have disastrous consequences. Kass concludes with an analysis of the, "Price of Progress". Kass likens the sale of organs to the world created in Alex Huxley's Brave New World, where we, "expend enormous energy and vast sums of money to preserve and prolong bodily life, but in the process our embodied life is stripped of its gravity and much of its dignity" (p. 784). This is the ultimate tragedy for Kass.

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