Organ transplants as commodities?

Published on August 31, 2015   43 min

Other Talks in the Series: Tissue in Research

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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.
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.