Following the arrest of Rabbi Rosenbaum, Brooklyn’s black-market organ broker, there’s been a fresh round of kidney-selling debate on the Internet and in the news. (Kidneys even made the fake news, in a John Hodgman segment on the Daily Show. People care about kidneys!)
At bottom, the case for a market in kidneys is simple: it’s my kidney. Why shouldn’t I be permitted to sell it?
I’ve been interested to note a common theme among those who worry about kidney markets. Says Jon Stewart in the Daily Show clip, “doesn’t that just turn poor people into living organ farms for the rich?” Says publius at Obsidian Wings, “I’m just not sure I want market logic– which is necessarily coercive on some more than others– to intrude into the realm of body parts, or selling children.” Says Kevin Drum at Mother Jones, “Would this would be a global market? My discomfort with the idea is doubled or tripled at the idea of luring the poor in Bangladesh or Liberia into donating kidneys.”
The concern with exposing the poor to the depredations of a kidney market interests me in part because it is reminiscent of an argument commonly made by feminists opposed to prostitution: the labor market for sex work is more coercive to the poor than it is toward the rich, which makes problematic the apparent consent of a prostitute exchanging sex for money. (Catharine MacKinnon makes a version of this argument in “Prostitution and Civil Rights.”)
I take it that worries about markets in kidneys and sex are instances of a general unwillingness to expose bodily integrity to market forces. I wonder, though, if it’s so easy to draw a principled distinction between bodily integrity and other kinds of personal integrity. Is there a good reason to be much more worried about the cost to well-being of losing a kidney than about the cost of years spent in mind-numbingly repetitive assembly-line work?
By George Rainbolt, Georgia State University