I can sell my house, the things I make, and the services I provide. So why can't I sell one of my kidneys? What is the philosophical basis for the taboo against selling parts of our bodies? The
Commerce in certain bodily parts is allowed, at least if we define `bodily part' rather broadly: blood, eggs, sperm. But one cannot sell a kidney, even though we have two of them, and it is possible to have one removed for the needs of another without great harm to the donor. More accurately, one probably can sell a kidney, but it is illegal in most if not all countries, and widely thought to be immoral. But it is OK to donate a kidney, and indeed thought to be a noble act.
Why is this? It's not so clear to me, but perhaps after today's program with Debra Satz it will be. Nevertheless, let me try to state the case for a market it kidneys.
Consider two scientists, Fred and Ethel. Both are doing important work that benefits humankind. Both are otherwise healthy, but need a kidney transplant or they will die. Ethel is a gregarioius sort, with many friends, and part of a big family. She has lots of potential kidney donors, who will donate a kidney if there is a match. She gets a kidney transplant, from Rickey, a healthy fellow with lots of money. Everyone thinks Rickey is a good person, and Ethel a lucky one.
Fred is a recluse, with no living relatives. He does his work in his lab, goes home, and reads. He has few expenses, and has piled up a lot of money. He could easily pay $200,000. For a kidney. Lucy is a single mother with huge expenses she cannot cover. She wants to send her very bright and deserving children to a private school, since the public school is quite terrible. She is healthy, her kidney is a good match for Fred's.
How can it be right for Rickey to donate a kidney to Ethel, but wrong for Lucy to donate a kidney to Fred? What argument could we give Fred, and Lucy, that would convince them that this transaction, which would save Fred's life and insure a better life for Lucy's children, is wrong?