Who Owns Your Body Parts? by Kerry Howley
Organ transplantation as a treatment for severe patients is of great social importance since it can not only prolong life, but also ensure its higher quality. The most common type of human tissues transplantation is removal of organs and (or) tissues from a dead body. However, this type of transplantation also creates the great variety of issues, the most important of which is the appearance of money problem, i.e. the unfair allocation of finances in the donor-intermediary-recipient chain. In 2007, Kerry Howley in her article Who Owns Your Body? presented a comprehensive research on where from and where to the transplantation industry money goes, and what the donors (or their relatives) get from the tissue donation. The results were astonishing the donors in most cases receive nothing. Here, the real problem is that the donors relatives are blinded by their grief and funeral-related problems to such an extent that they forget to pay proper attention to the financial side of the donation, as well as to follow the destination of the tissue.
Howley did a great job studying the economic side of tissue donation. She tells a story of Alistair Cooke body, which was dissected for bones removal for the transplantation purposes. Obviously, bone tissue was removed illegally, without the recipient (his daughter, in this case) permission. The author claims that Cookes case is not nearly unique. The funeral business of removing body tissues and even utilizing the whole bodies has very furcate structure. Michael Mastromarino, who is to be blamed in this case, sold the Cookes bone to biotech industry companies that earn fortunes from every corpse coming into their hands. In fact, Mastomatino played a tiny role in the human tissue market. It is a multibillion industry involving both huge biotechnical companies and laboratories and funeral industries all over the world.
The Cookes story was only a trigger point for an international scandal. The fact the human tissues are used for bioengineering primarily undercover, i.e. without the recipients permission, opened a financial side of the question. Usually, the donor does not know where to his/her tissues are going. Indeed, one will doubt to give an organ to transform it into someones enlarged lips or the piece of synthetic skin for phalloplasty. In addition, the big concern is that the human body will become only the set of spare parts if the recipient will know the price of this or that tissue. That is why modern legislation carefully regulates the matter even changing the economic language of transplantation market. Meanwhile, the market is growing, and profits are rising.
The point raised by Howley is of especial importance nowadays. From the time the article was written, the transplantation market had only grown, and the issue of financial gain from tissue removal became even more acute. Problems of transplantation, as the fight against organized crime, drugs, or terrorism, are beyond one state. Transplantation becomes the sphere of international cooperation and is of interest for international organizations. It is true especially concerning the issue of dead body usage for bioengineering purposes. The main problem here is that the relatives are not even informed that some tissues are removed from their family member's body. However, in someone's nursing home essay I have seen this information.
Perhaps, what really surprises is the answer of authorities. The first rule of the tissue market is don't talk about the tissue market. In other words, they do not want to face the fact that tissue market exists beyond the desired boundaries and prefer to change names than really regulate it. Obviously, changing names in the tissue industry does partly help the relatives to overcome the grief and console themselves after the loss. On the other side, renaming does not change the essence of the matter. Using human tissues for marketing does exist, and some steps should be taken towards its regulation. It is obvious that existing legislation is not able to cope with expanding financial empire of human tissue use for bioengineering.
The other side of this coin is that knowing the prices and destinations may lead to uncontrolled consequences. For example, Howley claims, many bioethicists worry that payment will create a two-tiered system, in which the bodies of the poor are repurposed to serve the rich, and she is right. Knowing the price for the body parts may become the only way for the poor to earn money. It is much easier to sell a kidney (knowing that a person can live with one) or skin for a huge sum of money than to work hard and earn scantily. Knowing that the majority of tissues turn into cosmetics and other commercialized spheres and being familiar with the prices, the sold tissues by poor people would become the raw material or spare parts for the rich.
In conclusion, speaking about the whole industry of tissue transplantation it is clear that the purpose of its creation was positive and no one can deny that tissue donation has saved and is saving many lives and served as research material, helping scientists to make steps towards the treatment of complex diseases. On the other side, as many things in the modern world, the initial useful purpose turned into an instrument to earn money. Hiding behind the noble purpose of tissue donation, they make money on dead people and their relatives, infringing their rights and limiting their freedom of choice. Kerry Howley exemplified only one case of illegal tissue usage. However, the schemes employed in tissue market are far more complicated and, unfortunately, involve great variety of people that are related to the medicine in this or that way.