Human tissue and global ethics

Published on August 31, 2015 Archived on February 28, 2022   37 min

Other Talks in the Series: Tissue in Research

Please wait while the transcript is being prepared...
My name is Donna Dickenson. And I'm Emeritus professor of Medical Ethics at the University of London. I'm going to be speaking to you today on the topic of human tissue and global ethics.
We now have a situation where there is a global trade in human tissue. And in a book I wrote about five years ago, I called this trade body shopping. And this is an international trade, which began really as a trade in human eggs and sperm sold by private banks and IVF clinics. And I think that aspect is quite widely known, sometimes called rather flippantly, reproductive tourism. And two examples of that are this US college newspaper advertisement, which was headed, Girls sell your eggs and enjoy the night life of Chennai! The idea being that American, female college students would go to India, go to Chennai and would undergo the rather laborious process of egg extraction, at the same time would be able to enjoy the nightlife. And here's another example of this slightly flip attitude towards reproductive tourism towards the global trade. And this is from the founder of a commercial egg and sperm bank called beautiful people. And he said, everyone, including ugly people, would like to bring good looking children into the world and we can't be selfish with our attractive gene pool.
Now, that is the rather flip approach to what is actually a very serious question. And what is actually a very complex market in human tissue. To stay with the topic of eggs for the time being, the market in human eggs is differentiated by what buyers think are desirable phenotypes. And I hasten to say that I don't think there's anything particularly desirable about any of these. There's a slightly eugenic take to this. But the market in human eggs does reward certain phenotypes. And those tend to be musicality, high intelligence, height, tall height, athletic ability, and blonde hair color seems to be rewarded. Now, this is actually in contravention of professional guidelines, even in America, where this market is perhaps most complex. And the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has actually stipulated that there should be no higher payment than $5,000 for human eggs. But the so-called right traits, that is the ones that I've just enumerated, can command up to 10 times that. And this is not just limited to America. The reason why the advert was targeting American female students for a Chennai clinic is that in India, in southern India in this case, European or American egg sellers of European extraction can also command high prices because of fair skin as a desirable phenotype. Of course, that's not really a guarantee at all that the genotype will come out that way.