A trade in body parts

jenyan1 jenyan1 at uic.edu
Tue Apr 9 13:30:25 MDT 2002

[Below are extracts from two articles on the subject. The first, by
M.J. Alam, claims to be a satire. The second, appearing in a London
daily, claims to be serious.]

Comparative advantages

   Inspired by the Monterrey conference, M Shahid Alam suggests new
   and efficient uses for the surplus bodies of the underdeveloped

   '... it is exactly at one year old that I propose to
   provide for them [Irish children] in such a manner as
   instead of being a charge upon their parents or the
   parish, or wanting food and raiment for the rest of their
   lives, they shall on the contrary contribute to the
   feeding, and partly to the clothing, of many thousands.'
                       -- Jonathan Swift, A Modest Proposal (1729)

The world has never shown a greater, more deeply felt solicitude for the
wretched of the earth -- the hundreds of millions who die miserable deaths
on less than a dollar a day -- as it has in the six months since 11
September. These concerns were showcased at the Conference on Financing
Development underway last week in Monterrey, Mexico, where the heads of
the richest, most powerful nations appended their signatures to
a"consensus" on how to eradicate global poverty in our lifetime.


And now a variety of developments in the core have converged to create
vast new opportunities for new international division of labour. First I
will draw your attention to advances in the medical field that have made
organ transplants safe, and that are generating drugs and cosmetic
products derived from foetal tissues and body waste. This has created
growing demand for a variety of body parts and body waste (BPWs). At
present, the body parts in greatest demand include heart valves, livers,
kidneys, corneas, skin, ova, sperm, bone marrow, and muscle tissue. A
variety of body wastes are also in growing demand, including foetuses,
brain cells, umbilical cords, foreskins, placentas and infected cells. As
the core countries get richer, as their incomes become more skewed, and as
their population ages, we can safely predict a sustained growth in the
global demand for BPWs.

This growing demand for BPWs carries an enormous -- and I would hasten to
add, unprecedented -- opportunity for growth in the poorest of the poor
countries. A simple application of the standard theory of international
trade would suggest that the production of BPWs will occur in the poorest
countries of the periphery. The logic is quite transparent. The production
of BPWs, since these are harvested from the bodies of workers, is a very
strongly labour-intensive activity; and since labour is cheapest in the
poorest countries, the global markets will ensure that their production is
concentrated in the these countries.

Quite apart from its tremendous economic advantages, this international
division of labour, once established, will create a hitherto inconceivable
organic bond between global centre and periphery. When the populations at
the centre -- the men, women and children -- realise that some of their
body parts are imported from the periphery, one hopes that this will
finally erode the age-old racisms that have poisoned relations between the
world's peoples.

Full article:


The Independent 09 April 2002
Surgeons call for legalised trade
in body parts

Boom in illicit transplants from Third World
forces medical community to confront an
age-old taboo

By Jeremy Laurance, Health Editor

09 April 2002

In matters of life and death, the law counts for little. A man or woman
confronting their own mortality will acknowledge few restraints on their
behaviour. That is why the trade in human organs is booming.

Doctors around the world report that wealthy individuals with kidney
disease are travelling in increasing numbers to countries where they can
buy kidneys on the black market, despite the international ban on
trafficking in human organs.

Patients from Britain, America and the Middle East are among those who
have benefited from the growing trade, focused on countries where poverty
is endemic including India, Iraq and eastern Europe.

Now kidney specialists who have in the past condemned the trade are
suggesting that payments to living donors, controlled in such a way as to
avoid exploitation (see box), may be the only way to solve the global
shortage of human organs. One of the greatest of all medical taboos - the
sale of body parts - is being openly proposed for the first time.

Full Article

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