Ethics and religion discussion: why can’t I sell my body parts?

Reverend Ray Lanning, retired pastor of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America, responds:

“You seem to be unaware that contrary to laws, there is a horrible business of harvesting and selling human body parts that is flourishing all over the world, and no doubt to some extent in our own country. It is said that some reapers take what they want, even reluctant parts. The greatest joy of a Christian is to know that “I, body and soul, in life and in death, am not mine, but belong to my faithful Saviour, Jesus Christ” (Catechism of Heidelberg, Q.1). We have given our bodies to the Lord, as well as the faith and love of our hearts or our souls. We live by this rule: “You have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which belong to God.” (I Corinthians 6:20). There is no way we can accept your premise, “It’s my body”. That would be turning your back on Christ and renouncing the Christian faith. On the contrary, the sixth commandment (“Thou shalt not kill”, Exodus 20:13) obliges us to respect the Lord as owner of our bodies, and therefore, “let me not harm myself, nor expose myself willfully without danger” (Heidelberg Catechism, Q. 105), much less offer my body parts for sale to the highest bidder. If by donating an organ, or giving blood, I can do good for others, I will do so as an act of sacrificial love, and thus glorify God, without asking anything in return. Making merchandise from body parts is nothing less than the crime of receiving stolen property.

Fred Stella, the Pracharak (minister of outreach) of the West Michigan Hindu Temple, responds:

“What’s interesting is that even though we can’t sell our body parts, we are allowed to give them away for free. Kidneys and bone marrow are regularly used for transplantation. There is a general consensus that a moral component exists in this conversation.

“The argument I’ve always heard against organ fees is that it would most likely exploit the poor. Of course, this begs the question, if we care so much about exploiting the poor, why do we allow an economic system to exist that would put people in such dire straits in the first place? The same reasoning is used when talking about prostitution.

“The only country I know of that allows the sale of organs is Iran. Obviously, we are not talking about a paragon of virtue here, at least by Western standards. There are people in the medical community who observe this system. Maybe one day in America we could change course on this.

Father Kevin Niehoff, OP, a Dominican priest who serves as Judicial Vicar, Diocese of Grand Rapids, responds:

“This question raises many ethical and moral questions. Philosophically, these questions have plagued the intellectual world for hundreds of years, especially since the Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries. The Enlightenment period places human reason before Christian thought, specifically Catholic.

“The human being is the image and likeness of God. Human beings are subjects, not objects, and deserve the highest level of dignity. Human beings, including all parts of the human body, are not commodities. The crux of the moral and ethical question of the sale of hair, blood plasma, sperm and eggs lies in the purpose. We must avoid processes that denigrate the dignity of the humanities. Reducing the human body and its parts to commodities destroys human dignity.

Reverend Steven W. Manskar, a retired United Methodist pastor, responds:

“The ban on the sale of human body parts aims to protect vulnerable people from criminal organizations that could exploit them by selling their organs for profit.”

Linda Knieriemen, senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Holland, responds:

“Hair, plasma, sperm and eggs are replenished when removed or, in the case of human eggs, found in abundance. We will not miss them. But one kidney, even if a human is born with two, cannot be reproduced if removed. With organ shortages in the United States and most of the world, there is an understandable movement to make these sales legal, or at least tolerated.

“The human body is a creation of God. It is beyond value, it is more than a commodity. An individual’s decision to sell a body part is not isolated but is part of a larger market system and therefore subject to abuse.

“Allowing the sale of body parts skews the wealthy, or those able to pay for, say, a kidney, heart or lung. Potential donors can also be exploited by selling their organs to the person willing to pay the most rather than to those with the greatest medical need. The theological principle at stake is not that of morality, but that of justice, fairness and equality. Until these values can be protected, the government is right to ban the sale of irreplaceable body parts.

This column answers questions of ethics and religion by putting them to a multi-faith panel of spiritual leaders from the Grand Rapids area. We would love to hear about common ethical questions that arise in your day as well as religious questions you have. Tell us how you solved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

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