Ownership of Bodily Fluids and Organs: Do we have the right to sell Organs and Fluids? The advancement of modern technology and our continual progress in medical sciences have made it necessary to debate this topic. There are many cases where it is unclear as to whom has the property rights of bodily fluids, cells, or organs. These questions of ownership tend to surface in cases where these products are no longer located within a person’s body.
The necessity to delegate ownership of bodily substances suggests that “we have irretrievably entered an age that requires examination of our understanding of the legal rights and relationships in the human body and the human cell” (Charo, 1517). I believe if there is anything a person truly owns in this world, it is their body and every element associated with it. This right however, becomes more dubious when dealing with excised bodily materials that are often used in laboratory testing. There isn’t a legal document or a “single court opinion that addresses all the complexities of the legal notion of ‘property’” (Charo, 1517).
Courts often face the difficult task of determining a person’s rights that are associated with property. In a general sense, we tend to think anything material regarded as “property”, is material that is owned by the person in possession of it. With regards to any material we own, we also assume we have the right to do what we will of these possessions. This is not true of our bodily components. The sale of any bodily organs or members is illegal in the United States because to “consider bodies and organs as property is tantamount to considering the people themselves as chattels” (483-4).
I agree this law is necessary to respect the autonomy of individuals. The allowance to sell body parts would allow the wealthy population to “take advantage of the poor by offering such high prices for human organs that the poor would be unable to resist the enticement” (484). This process would negate the idea of organ donation and lead to a possible black market in the United States. If currency was a lawful exchange for human organs, there would be much more cases of assault and battery. Criminals and poor people might resort to physically removing body parts from other persons in hopes of gaining monetary value for them.
These possible outcomes outline the reasons why “there is no ownership in human bodies; everyone has a right to decide what shall happen with her or his own body” (484). Ownership of bodies would then suggest that parents own their children’s bodies until they become adults. Parents would then be granted the right to do as they wish to their children. This of course would be ludicrous. Although a person cannot sell their organs, I believe they should have the right to choose whom they donate their organs too.
I also believe that once a person dies, any substances in relation to the cadaver are subjected as waste thus allowing removal of organs. There should however be laws against the disrespect or mutilation of cadavers. It is clear as to why we cannot give ownership rights over a person’s body. However, not having ownership rights does not amount to a person losing their right to autonomy. It basically means that we don’t have the right to sell any of our organs. The fact that a person does not have property rights over their bodily parts or fluids questions if we truly have the right to autonomy.
The main dilemma we are now faced with is determining who owns the body parts or fluids of a person if they are no longer within a person’s body. These problems are usually associated with excised mater used for laboratory experiments, but there are other cases that pose a problem. The situation with Britney Spears is a good example. Britney walked into a hair salon and manually cut off her own hair. She did not use the services of the hair salon. She merely picked up the clippers, shaved her head, and walked out of the store, leaving her hair on the floor.
One of the stylists then decided to sell the hair on eBay for the purpose of making money on Britney’s hair. Here is where the dilemma occurs. Britney was under the assumption that once she cut her hair, it was considered waste and was to be thrown away. This was not the case. The problem here is deciding whether or not Britney has the right to any money earned from the hair that used to be on her head. Even if we did have property rights to our bodies, Britney willingly left her hair in the salon. Waste is not considered the property of anybody. Now take for example a person who has just cleaned out their attic.
Once they dispose of any items, these items are considered waste. They are no longer the property of any person. Any person who finds this waste can claim it. Suppose one of the items that are now waste, just so happened to be a priceless artifact worth millions of dollars. The person who disposed of this item should no longer be entitled to reap any benefits from it. Even if they were unaware of its value or mistakenly disposed of it, they are still not entitled any of its earnings. These circumstances provide us with such expressions as: “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” or the commonly used “possession is nine tenths of the law”.
These examples might be questionable, but cases involving excised material pose the biggest problem of determining ownership. Moore vs. California is a prime case in which the court had to define what legal rights a person has in regards to their bodily material once it has been excised from the body. The court decided that Moore did not have property rights over his excised tissue. Therefore, he was not entitled to any of the profits made from his tissue. I strongly disagree with the court’s decision on the grounds of suppressed information. Moore was diagnosed with cancer and was receiving his treatments at the University of California.
After running many tests on his tissues and bodily fluids, the doctors concluded that Moore have his spleen removed. Moore trusted his doctors and signed a form of consent to the removal of his spleen. During the next few years, Moore continually returned to the University for routine check-ups. Each time the doctors excised fluids and tissues from Moore. Moore allowed them to do so because he was under the assumption that their methods were standard. He was not informed that his cells were also being used for medical testing that would result in huge monetary gain.
The courts ruled in favor of the University of California on the basis that Moore willingly allowed the excision of his bodily matter. They decided that we do not have property rights over our bodily matter before or after they leave our bodies. This ruling suggests that the court viewed “any right we may have to control the use of our tissue rests on other considerations, such as the privacy of medical information or entitlements created through the regulation of research on human subjects” (Charo, 1518). Most people would of course argue that this claim is a huge infraction on a person’s autonomy.
In order to ensure a person’s autonomy, we must have a principle that avoids decisions like that of the Moore case. Medical researchers disagree because they feel “recognizing property rights in excised tissue would threaten their ability to use stored tissue samples effectively” (Charo, 1518). We don’t have to claim property rights over our bodily matter to appease both parties. We must however conclude that “donation constitutes a relinquishment of that right depending on the fairness of the extraction and the quality of the information provided before consent” (Charo, 1518).
When dealing with excised material for experimental and research purposes, I believe there must be full disclosure and consent. I feel that we own our bodies and every element to it. If we have willingly disposed or donated any of our bodily organs or fluids, then we no longer have any rights concerning those materials. There must be an understood agreement by both parties in order of this principle to be successful. I offer an example I have been debating. Suppose I have a friend who is a gifted artist.
One day he comes over to my house and uses all of my materials, including the canvas, to paint a masterpiece. My friend leaves my house and plans on returning the next day to finish his painting and then take it with him. Now suppose that sold this painting and kept the profits for myself. The question here is whether or not my friend is entitled to any of the profits. The canvas was mine but we were both under the general assumption that my friend was going to keep it once finished. It is hard to determine at what point ownership of this painting is transferred.
My friend cannot have property rights over this painting. Any court would decide in my favor for technical reasons. It is easy to see the immorality of this act. This is why I feel both parties must always agree when possession of any given matter is transferred. Works Cited Charo RA. “Body of research-ownership and use of human tissue”. New England Journal of Medicine. 2006; 355(15):1517-1519. Kuhse, Helga, and Peter Singer. Bioethics. An Anthology Second Edition. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1999. Mappes, Thomas A. , and David Degrazia. Biomedical Ethics, Fifth Edition. New York: McGraw Hill, 2001.