The "spare parts person"? Conceptions of the human body and their implications for public attitudes towards organ donation and organ sale

Philosophy, Ethics, and Humanities in Medicine 4:4- (2009)
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Abstract

BackgroundThe increasing debate on financial incentives for organ donation raises concerns about a "commodification of the human body". Philosophical-ethical stances on this development depend on assumptions concerning the body and how people think about it. In our qualitative empirical study we analyze public attitudes towards organ donation in their specific relation to conceptions of the human body in four European countries (Cyprus, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden). This approach aims at a more context-sensitive picture of what "commodification of the body" can mean in concrete clinical decisions concerning organ donation.ResultsWe find that moral intuitions concerning organ donation are rooted in various conceptions of the human body and its relation to the self: a) the body as a mechanical object owned by the self, b) the body as a part of a higher order embodying the self, and c) the body as a hierarchy of organs constitutive of the self.ConclusionThe language of commodification is much too simple to capture what is at stake in everyday life intuitions about organ donation and organ sale. We discuss how the plurality of underlying body-self conceptions can be taken into account in the ethical debate, pointing out consequences for an anthropologically informed approach and for a liberal perspective

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