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Bodies for sale: ethics and exploitation in the human body trade
  1. G Calder

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    S Wilkinson, London and New York: Routledge, 2003, £17.99, pp 264. ISBN 0415266254

    We grow used to the commercialisation of life. As free market logic has been boldly extended into areas of social practice where no profit making business has gone before, we have grown accustomed to the creeping commodification of public services and of common goods. But by itself, the existence of such processes is no indication of their ethical defensibility. And most of us, whatever our political commitments, support some restrictions as to the spheres in which the commodity relation might acceptably take hold. Many would draw the line either at, or near, the human body itself. For to “commodify”, in the relevant ethical sense, is to treat as a commodity something which should not be marketed. Whatever else can legitimately be bought or sold, aspects of our own embodied selves mark, for many, a step beyond the limit.

    However this principle, where held, is often diluted in discussion of specific instances. Prostitution, commercial surrogacy, pornography—all of these represent ways in which the body might be commodified. In each case there are lines of resistance to the idea that commodification represents a harm in itself. A recent contribution to this journal rejects the idea that there is an in-principle objection to a market in living human organs.1 In an oft cited article, Janet Radcliffe Richards has suggested that widespread “repugnance” concerning the idea of organ sale distracts us from more rational consideration of the issues at stake and that, on closer inspection, this repugnance has no moral or rational grounding.2 As the potential for commodification has become more widespread, there has been a mushrooming of arguments of a similar flavour.

    In common, their aim is to show that the selling of bodies and their parts, if …

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