Organ transplants as commodities?

Published on August 31, 2015   43 min
0:00
HUB ZWART: Welcome to the audience. Thank you for listening. To my name is Hub Zwart. I'm a professor of philosophy at the Faculty of Science, Radboud University, Nijmegen in the Netherlands. And I would like to talk to you today about organ transplantation, and more specifically about organ transplants as commodities. I think this is a very urgent ethical issue, it's a very global issue, it's a focus of concern worldwide. And I'll speak about this topic from a philosophical point of view. So although I will touch upon and discuss some of the medical issues, I will focus, of course, on the ethical and philosophical issues. Besides philosophy proper, so, besides concepts and arguments, I will also use organ transplantation cinema. I will discuss a few movies about experiences, recipients of organs, donors of organs, because I think those movies, organ transplantation cinema, as it were, can add something of value, can add some insights into our concerns, our anxieties, our desires concerning organ transplantations, our challenges, our options.
1:14
But before going into detail, let me first of all explain the design of my lecture. So the topic is transplantation medicine. But I will especially address the way in which transplantation medicine has changed our experience, our view of the human body. So besides, let's say, bioethical issues in a very strict sense, issues such as informed consent, donor consent, et cetera, I will, rather, approach this issue from what I call a "depth ethics" perspective. And I'll focus on what we call in philosophy the ontological dimension, the ontological repercussions. So basically I will talk about our view of the human body, our experience of embodiment. How has our view of the human body been affected by experiences and developments in organ transplantation? I will discuss the idea of bodily integrity, which is a very old concept, the idea that human body is very valuable, it should be inviolable. But I will explain that, well, the emergence of transplantation medicine has changed this, has shown, has revealed, so to speak, that our body is not simply a unity, a coherent whole, but rather can be seen as an aggregate of replaceable parts. So that's the view of human embodiment that was more or less conveyed, you could say, by transplantation medicine. So I will point out the conflict, the tension, between these two views of human embodiment, on the one hand, the traditional idea of the human body in terms of integrity and wholeness, on the other hand, the new view of the human body as an aggregate of replaceable parts. Then I will shift, as I already mentioned, to organ transplantation cinema. I will discuss a few movies about the topic. And I will especially focus on the intriguing fact that in many movies addressing organ transplantations, organ theft is a very key motive. So many of these movies are more or less about the problematic origin of implanted organs. And I think this is a very intriguing or interesting aspect. And I will talk about that. Why do these movies give so much attention to, let's say, illegal or clandestine organ markets, things like that, organ theft even. Why is this such a concern in those movies? I will talk about that a little bit. And in the end I will ask the question, well how has transplantation medicine changed our view of the human body and what can we learn from, let's say, organ transplantation cinema to understand, explore, and address these questions? Those will be my concluding remarks.
4:16
So I will start with my ontology, or depth ethics, of transplantation medicine. And a very basic claim in my lecture will be that transplantation medicine is not simply a technology, not simply a kind of surgery, so to speak, that allows us to solve some health problems, but that its effect, its impact, goes much deeper and much further. It has changed, it has affected the way in which we experience ourselves, as you embody the subjects. That'll be the claim of my lecture. Transplantation medicine has promoted, you could say, the view of the human body as an aggregate of replaceable parts, separable, detachable, exchangeable, re-incorporable objects. So the human body has become a potential resource, as it were, for organ recycling on behalf of the suffering of others. And that's quite understandable, because our body contains all kinds of organs which could help, which could save the lives of other people. And this has changed the way we and other people look at our bodies. Our intimate interior of our bodies contains a set of valuable items which become objects of desire. Other people could use our organs to survive. We have something which other people, craving subjects, craving patients, lack. And our organs are sources of value. Sometimes people become donors while they're still alive, for example, they can donate a kidney to a spouse or to a family member. But of course, most donors become donors shortly after death, especially in case of brain death. And then their body is, you could say, a container of very valuable items. And that's a new experience, a new way of looking at human bodies. That's something I will argue. It has led to what I will refer to as the emergence of the "body in pieces," so the body as a composite of replaceable components, detachable organs, detachable things. And that is a new way of looking at the human body. And also in movies this is captured quite clearly.
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Organ transplants as commodities?

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