Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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What Happens When Technology is not Driven by Morality?

Something like this. There have been lots of reports of organ harvesting in China and other places around the globe. Here is another--more disturbing one. Peter Lawler warned in his recent podcast with Peter (Schramm) that one possibile and probable outcome of allowing the sale of organs would be the harvesting of the Third World by more industrialized countries for the wealthy. Apparently, in China, it is just another way to deal with political opposition--real or perceived. What’s next? If someone looks at you cross-eyed do you punch him in the nose or take his liver?

Discussions - 25 Comments

Isn’t this a little like saying that there shouldn’t be a market in shoes, because people have been known to kill one another over them? Is China’s horrific persecution of the Falun Gong made worse by the fact that the organs are sold afterward? Would it be better if those organs were simply disposed of with the rest of the corpse? Do you think that without a market for organs the Chinese would ease up on their repression of political opposition?

This organ market issue will be everywhere over the next few years. And it’s not a simple one. I’ll have an article in the fall NEW ATLANTIS about it, along with Gil Meilander. Meanwhile, check out the material available at

Dr. Moser,

I disagree with what your comment is implying. Regardless of whether or not people in China are killed for their shoes, an added moral element is brought in by the organ question, and involves many more people (assuming the market for stolen shoes is fairly narrow, or at least narrower than the market for stolen organs) and many more levels of responsibility.

I would argue that it would be better for the organs to rot with the corpse rather than be put on the black market, because to say as much would be a step (though I try not to rely on slippery slope arguments) down a dark, immoral road.

Some people in the middle east believe that Jews harvest muslim organs for sale in London and New York. Muslims probably harvest organs from christian infidels in Africa. Some coyotes probably smuggle in immigrants and help them with documentation in exchange for sex...carrying drugs in breast implants or organ donations...You could probably write your worst fears concerning inhuman behavior...and it has probably happened. Lots of it probably involves harvesting from the third world. All the radical purveyors of rhetoric need to do is blame a certain group or the west for this evil, and they have an instant soap box that plays well with people willing to believe the worst about the "other".

The question to be decided isn’t "is there a market in organs? or should there be?" But rather the question is how do you regulate this market to prevent the most evil people from taking advantage of it.

What would be wrong with regulating the market for organs such that only the person to whom the organs belong can sell them? I don’t see how Peter Lawler can be held to be correct if evidence of a black market in organs shows that the Third World is already being harvested.

We should allow the sale of organs...paying very close attention to the origins of those organs. Anything else is immoral.

In fact not allowing the sale of organs in the United States where such a market could be properly regulated...simply encourages surgical vacations to China or Brazil and other places were it is much more brutally obvious that indeed human life is a hot commodity available to the highest bidder.

At the end of the day I don’t agree w John L. on this, but his arguments are serious. The dominant vision of the American "regulated market" is something like this. It costs Medicare well over $100K to sustain a dialysis patient until death--dialysis is a universal entitlement and ir’a the only alternative when kidney failure comes to either transplant or quick death.
So it would be in the taxpayers’ self-interest for M. to start paying up to 100K for live kidneys. The premise is that the government would prop the price up. But one problem is that no consistent libertarian can believe that Medicare will exist forever--and the c. l. also tends to believe that globalization will being the nation-state to its knees. A global market in kidneys would drive the price down and surely result in discount kidneys from less fortunate people in less fortunate countries. But the strength of the libertarian position is that cadaver kidneys and gifts of live kidneys can’t possibly meet the rapidly growing demand for transplants--and so the waiting list is rapidly getting longer and longer--long enough to ensure already that most people on it will die on dialysis (which, in effect, in the best case is a slow poisoning).

Our collective "moral outrage" that people (Falun Gong or otherwise) would be killed for the purposes of organ harvesting is eerily similar to the Left’s moral outrage that folks would be killed because of the color of their skin, religious proclivities, sexual orientation, etc.

Do not include me in the group that supports Hate Crime Legislation. I’m assuming most NLT readers would state the same?

Ultimately, as I think Moser has alluded, does it really matter why these people are killed? Because IMHO, if a member of FG is killed, and his or her organ’s are harvested, that’s no more apalling than a crack dealer being shot over a turf war.

As I understand the self-evident truths that Jefferson wrote of -- each human being has equal value, in their rights, as any other human being. In that vein, the death of one is the same as the death if any other. Not that I’m advocating - but if anything, it would seem that organ harvesting actually makes the execution of FG less tragic -- if for no other reason that the perpetuation of someone else’s life would result.

John Moser and M. Shawn Anderson, you should be ashamed to say things like that, and you should think about what your mother would think before you write it. More dehumanizing than a string of profanity from the mouth of a pimp are statements like these: "Organ harvesting actually makes the execution of FG less tragic -- if for no other reason that the perpetuation of someone else’s life would result" "Is China’s horrific persecution of the Falun Gong made worse by the fact that the organs are sold afterward? Would it be better if those organs were simply disposed of with the rest of the corpse?" Well, gentlemen, I guess you would be feel less distraught about the murder of a loved one if their body was ground into sausage by their murderers and then shipped off to feed the starving somewhere. Were my relatives thrown to the dogs by their unjust murdering government, it would be more bearable than if those bastards sold their body parts and then also insufferably claimed to have "alleviated someone’s suffering" by doing so. By your logic, none of us will be permitted a funeral. In your logic, things like the bodily dimension of the person, reverence for the dead, relatives, and JUSTICE just fade away into the mathematically tabulated "good of the many." Your slogan: THE MORE MAN-HOURS LIVED, THE BETTER. A sure-fire recipe for despotism, however "libertarian" its origins.

I’ll concede that a hard-headed consideration of the options on the organ-market has to be debated, as Lawler and Lewis suggest. But that’s something that no-one’s mother need be ashamed of.

Sorry, replace "funeral" with "burial." (Or even "cremation.")

You’ve missed my point entirely. It was not to defend the Chinese government in any way, but rather to suggest that the blame is being misplaced. The problem isn’t organ markets, but rather China’s tyranny. I don’t think anyone’s organs ought to be "harvested" without prior consent. The problem is that a regime like China’s, that has no respect for human life in the first place, is not about to have scruples for what is done with its victim’s earthly remains.

you should think about what your mother would think before you write it.

It just so happens that I’ve discussed this issue with both my parents, and they agree with me. So no, I don’t feel particularly ashamed.

Wait a minute. There are medical issues to the trade in kidneys. You can’t just buy a kidney like you can a new car battery. There are multiple compatibility issues and surely, Peter Lawler, aren’t I correct, a kidney has a short (sorry) shelf life? Aren’t these issues barriers to such trade? A purchaser of a kidney has to find a compatible organ donor. Granted, the numbers of prisoners in China is vast enough that the Chinese government could probably find a kidney for any given international recipient. But wouldn’t they have to do extensive testing of the "donor" bodies to find a good match? Is the Chinese government requiring prisoners to undergo that expensive and rigorous testing for inadvertent "donor" compatability? Even the most desperate kidney patient is NOT going to undergo surgery to receive the wrong kind of kidney which would be certain death.

Respect for human life or not, there is a transaction cost, in medical terms, that makes this a problematic business even for the unscrupulous.

Generally: A "third world" kidney broker develops a stable of live donors of various blood types etc. for the convenience of customers. Live donors work much better, and the kidneys typically last longer than those from cadavers (which must be "harvested" immediately basically from people who die from traffic accidents, etc.--who’ve suffered some fatal trauma but were healthy otherwise when they died). The problem of finding a suitable live donor points in the direction of a market--not just anyone can give you a kidney.
I say this still being against the market.

What’s next?

Future ad(?):

Ladies! Have fun while making money! Get paid for your embryos!

I am not sure that the government would have to prop the price up...or should. Certainly if Medicare starts covering Kidneys up to 100,000 this would have this effect. I suppose paying people a "fair" amount for a kidney is generally a good thing. Certainly we get into some pretty hairy thinking if we claim that the market is always the best solution. Because in essence the market is best not just on utilitarian grounds but because value is exchanged for value between two free agents(in fact this is largely the basis for why it ends up being anyone who trully understands Mill’s On Liberty would agree.) In the case of a market in organs one sees that necessity and desperation enters into the equation on both sides...Does it enter into the equation so completly that the concept of "free agent" is a misnomer? A man may have saved up a fortune by very hard labor to see his last penny erased by the man selling him his extra kidney at quite rightly "monopoly prices"...conversely a poor Nigerian(or the many harder pressed than those from this "rich" African nation) may be hard pressed to find food enough to eat and may sell his kidney as cheaply as Jacob sold his inheritance.

Thus the prime condition for formulating a market in Kidneys or other organs would have to be some sort of litmus test for determining who is a "willing" donor.

Because of this moral consideration as well as logistical and medical considerations it would probably be best if the market for organs was closed to imports...americans only...or those who are on U.S. soil.

Lets be clear... unless we find a way to financially encourage people to donate organs concepts such as those enumerated by Carl Scott will win the day...ceteris paribus things like "the bodily dimension of the person, reverence for the dead.." generally trump altruistic donation...especially if you believe that it might trouble relatives already disturbed by your death. Creating a market for organs and setting the legal and moral terms for such a market will increase the total amount of organs tipping the scale. Any increase in "moral" supply in effect is a good thing because it decreases the demand that would otherwise seek an "immoral" supply overseas. A larger american supply is healthier...better...and if done right...everyone wins. But action needs to be taken now before China or Brazil or some other less reputable nation establishes a firm reputation as "safe". Because if you can go to a third world country and have it done cheaper and at only a marginally greater risk...well then the only thing to restrain people is moral scrupples... and if we are arguing that in such desperate situations people can loose "free agent" status...well then God help us!

My position on this isn’t to advocate a perfect market/libertarian solution...or rather I do advocate such a market...but an american market. Because the truth isn’t that if we don’t go down the route of allowing people to sell organs...they simply won’t be sold and voila we will have averted the inevitable squeeze on the poor... rather when Dr. Lawler says "A global market in kidneys would drive the price down and surely result in discount kidneys from less fortunate people in less fortunate countries." He is simply stating an economic truth that will be true to some extent regardless of what policy americans take on the issue. It will still be equally true that the poor will be willing to part with organs for less if the United States ends up allowing for a market for organs...but if set up right we could probably take advantage of our quality and infrastructure to stem the outflow of american dollars that will otherwise feed and perpetuate such canabilistic ventures overseas.

Lets put it this way... if you fly in the Ethiopian put him up in a good american hospital..and allow him to accept or decline the highest bidder for his this better for him and the patient than if he had his familly held hostage in exchange for a kidney? Certainly... and perhaps for the right price level...the entire market for organs could be handled domestically.

Well, John M., while I never thought you endorsed the (perhaps quite rare--still largely in the lack-of-proof stage here) Chinese practice, let alone the ongoing Chinese communist party tyranny, you said what you said. And I found the spirit of your language rather ugly, and you can see I got a little angry. But one’s language isn’t a minor thing. Had you said what you said in the presence of a friend or relative of one of the victims, the anger I displayed would be nothing compared to theirs, because as you recognize in your follow-up post, selling without consent is an extreme "adding insult to" the ultimate in "injury." Your language’s ugliness, and yes, shamefullness, mostly has to do with the utterly removed perspective of judgement it posits, in which you can say, "Well, at least someone benefited from the heinous crime, as all will concede who have risen above the superstitious reverence for the particular body." But it’s not a coincidence that that’s the sort of superstition that every tyrant has managed to rise above, and particularly the ideological tyrants of our times. How many pounds of flesh would be needed to pave the path to a perpetually prosperous social order? Lenin and Stalin were steely enough to know that, once that is the question, (i.e., once the old superstitions about bodies and natural rights are risen above, but the promise of socialist paradise remains) then the correct answer must be "As many pounds as necessary!" You, unlike a real communist, recognize the existence of rights and thus of acts we can really call "heinous crimes." But I suspect that as long as it is consensual,you hold that flesh may be used in any manner whatsover. That certainly does not make you a tyrant-supporter or on the way to becoming so, but it does sketch a strange and perhaps significant family resemblance.

Or let me put it another way. The "steeliness" of John Lewis’ largely persuavive arguments is of the sort that says, "Here’s a problem we can’t avoid, and we must be prepared to swallow some ugly things to keep them from getting uglier." But the "steeliness" of your language is of the kind that says, "get over your superstitions, so long as there is consent, there is nothing ugly here." Lewis worries about my superstitions winning the day, but he recognizes that they must be taken into account. If donation becomes widespread and accepted, and an internal market established, by convincing the likes of me, a "moral" supply will result as opposed to an "immoral" one. (Interesting quotation marks, Mr. Lewis!)

I put the quotation marks around moral and immoral because my argument could only claim that rational consent was the determining factor in the morality of organ donation/sale. I suspect that if Dr. Lawler was crafting the ethical language the morality of the issue would rest upon more than a concern with the status of consent...Perhaps some Kantian/utilitarian argument would have it that there is a sort of duty to donate organs(I would reject this...and would go so far as to argue that it is anti-utilitarian utilitarianism. Conversely I would reject the view that concerns over the extent to which modern medicine "plays God" should lead us to prohibit organ sales outright.) In other words men should be free to donate or sell organs, which of necessity also requires that they be free not to donate or sell them.

I assume that perhaps Dr. Mosier would agree with my rants...and I suspect that if this post had gone a slightly different narrative route comment 16 would have had to do with abortion. Rather than attribute to Dr. Mosier some crude utilitarian view(anti-foundational utilitarianism) I assumed that he was about to hi-jack the post in the direction of abortion. Certainly his questions have incredible parallels to the question of using the stem cells of aborted fetuses. Like the persecution of Falun Gong by the evil chinese regime, abortion is not carried out for the sake of stem cells(neither is the harvesting of organs I assume?) Thus when he says "Is China’s horrific persecution of the Falun Gong made worse by the fact that the organs are sold afterward? Would it be better if those organs were simply disposed of with the rest of the corpse?" he can be seen to be asking if abortion made worse by the fact that stem cells may be harvested afterwards? Would it be better if the corpses of the aborted were simply disposed of? When he says "Do you think that without a market for organs the Chinese would ease up on their repression of political opposition?" He is in effect asking if it is not the case that the market for organs is not the cause or motivation for Chinese repression of dissenting views. Of course it isn’t...nor does the young girl who enters the clinic seek in any way to have an abortion because the fetus will donate its stem cells...On the other hand perhaps Chinese tyrants and the young girl alike believe that they are preserving something good from a bad it may provide a weak moral rationalization. In any case I took Dr. Moser’s opening remarks as mainly rhetorical with just enough spice to break open a discussion...albeit, one centered on the question of abortion.

"nor does the young girl who enters the clinic seek in any way to have an abortion because the fetus will donate its stem cells"

No, but it does create an additional financial incentive for the Planned Childlessness Camps to promote abortions, who, btw, already harvest and sell the organs from their victims.

Imagine the howls--and rightly so--if we said we were going to harvest the organs or conduct medical experiments on convicted prisoners. We realize that it would create an incentive to find people guilty. You would not hear taunts of "What--are you against science?" from us.

Yes, the problem is a philosophy that entertains the very notion of politicl prisoners and regards people as property of the State.
But many of our own lawmakers were perfectly capable of looking at those snowflake children and wondering "Hmmm...I wonder what you could have done for us...if only we could have put you in a blender?"

Now you give me another "wait a minute," Noel. Would a fetal kidney, or any other fetal organ, be of any use to anyone? What organs are you talking about?

Kate, Have a look at these or google it yourself: ""Anyone who knows anything about childbirth knows that you don’t induce a breach birth for the health of the mother."

On the other hand, Crutcher said, "if you want a whole baby, partial birth abortion will be your method of choice." Crutcher said that clinics first charge a woman for her abortion and then sell the whole fetus at several hundred dollars to researchers to maximize profits.

"In order to get the most money," Crutcher continued, “they make every attempt to deliver the baby whole, with a minimum of scratches on the body."...

"In order to circumvent the illegality of selling fetal body parts, the research institutes and the abortion clinics have joined with a third party, the fetal tissue wholesaler. The fetal tissue wholesaler pays the abortion clinics a "site fee" to place employees, known as "procurement agents," who collect various body parts of the aborted fetuses as soon as the abortion process is finished and ship them to various research institutes. By having free access to all the desirable fetal tissue, these agents take the body parts that are requested to various researchers at pharmaceutical companies, university research laboratories and government agencies.

The wholesaler is technically renting the space to harvest the body parts rather than paying for the tissue itself. The abortionist then "donates" the tissues to the wholesalers. At the other end of the transaction the wholesaler will "donate" the fetal material to researchers but bill them for the cost of retrieval. Thus the business deal is complete. In United States, it is now possible for the research clinics around the country including governmental research institutes to obtain fetal tissues and various body parts from the abortion clinics through this way. Below are few of the body parts listed for "sale."

Brains: $999
Limbs (at least two): $150
Eyes: $75
Intact trunk (with or without limbs): $500"

Mr. Lewis and Dr. Moser’s Libertarianism really runs against my conservative grains on this one, I’m afraid. This is wrong because, according to Locke, human beings have a Natural Right to Life. This cannot be trumped by a man’s right to own property because rights are inalienable. Therefore, this laissez faire organ market which everyone is talking about is immoral. That’s not to say it isn’t happening or that we could regulate it even if we wanted to, but the important thing is condemning the act. Of course, cloning and such adds a whole other spectrum to this debate, such as "what if you clone a human without a head, is it still a human?" Making clones for the purpose of organ harvesting is is just over the horizan once we accept organ harvesting in general.

And comment 19 is just gross. I wonder what the guys who buy and sell dead fetuses tell people they do for a living?

Oh, and it’s funny I came across this thread today because I was just thinking about this subject today while I was watching Hostel (certainly not for the faint of heart, but brutal justice does prevail). I fear that a culture which places no restraint on its individuals’ desires (such as the desire to pay big bucks for organs or the desire to sell organs) will habituate itself to seeing human beings as so many "human resources" rather than people, which would result in the acceptance of something like Hostel or the Roman Coliseum. Slippery slope, I know, but I think a legitimate concern.

I don’t follow what you are saying Andrew:

"This is wrong because, according to Locke, human beings have a Natural Right to Life. This cannot be trumped by a man’s right to own property because rights are inalienable. Therefore, this laissez faire organ market which everyone is talking about is immoral."

Human beings don’t have a right to life such that on the basis of need one would have a duty to donate organs. One retains property of his organs, and can upon death selfishly despose of them as seen fit including the right to bury them even if the heart in the dead body could otherwise preserve a life. On Kantian grounds perhaps it is immoral to create an organ market should act morally for the sake of morality and not for any self-interested reasons. Thus perhaps it is a moral duty to donate your organs...and an immoral consideration to bennefit from doing so in any way. I could perhaps jest and say that if the Falung Gong were Kantian they should prefer that their organs be sold rather than burried(because obviously selling them does not in this case violate the selfless devotion to the moral clause(assuming that you have a moral duty to further the life of others when possible.)

I think you missed the point of all my posts.

"Gross", Andrew? To the contrary, it is sterile, antiseptic, methodical, utilitarian and business-like, a decision taken in clean, well-lit offices by men with clean fingernails and clean white collars. It is not gross--merely evil.

It still amazes me that the Left, who do not trust Nike to manufacture tennis shoes humanely, who think Wal-Mart is human-rights violator, who do not trust Big Oil to do, well, anything fairly, look at the Big Soylent corporate farming of human life and think "What could possibly go wrong?"

We’d better get past the "Ick!" factor and start asking the tough questions, such as this;

"Is it progress when a cannibal uses a fork?"

"Making clones for the purpose of organ harvesting is is just over the horizan once we accept organ harvesting in general."

So are you against organ donation? Organ donation requires "harvesting"...the only difference between "donation" and setting up a proper market would be that people could get paid and thus have more incentive to donate. Heck we all have two kidneys...and we only need one...but suppose you donate one...and something goes bad with the only one you have left... then you are in deep trouble. It makes a lot of sense that you would want payment for a kidney so you could afford to get a replacement(and also so the supply would be big enough that the wait wouldn’t kill you...literally).

I certainly wouldn’t agree that we should make clones for the purpose of getting organs...On the other hand if we found a way to clone just an organ...that would be great...then I suppose once we have cloned individual hearts and kidneys and livers and lungs...someone might discover that the process can be made more efficient by growing them all together...then we have something like a human or a clone that we farm for the sake of organs...that is somewhat troubling...but it isn’t human because it isn’t concious. Now if we cloned it with a head...a mind and then farmed it... definately evil... but "what if you clone a human without a head, is it still a human?" No, Andrew it isn’t human.

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