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Selling Human Organs

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This thread should be a general discussion regarding the sale of human organs. I was prompted to start it because of this story. It is about China's organ sales of executed prisoners. Here is an excerpt:

When Kenichiro Hokamura's kidneys failed, he faced a choice: wait for a transplant or go online to check out rumours of organs for sale. As a native of Japan, where just 40 human organs for transplant have been donated since 1997, the businessman, 62, says it was no contest. "There are 100 people waiting in this prefecture alone. I would have died before getting a donor." Still, he was astonished by just how easy it was.

Ten days after contacting a Japanese broker in China two months ago, he was lying on an operating table in a Shanghai hospital receiving a new kidney. "It was so fast, I was scared," he says. The "e-donor" was an executed man; the price: 6.8m yen (about £33,000)[...][...]A recovering Mr Hokamura claims he is concerned with where his new kidney came from. "My translator said my donor was a young executed prisoner," says the businessman. "The donor was able to provide a contribution to society so what's wrong with that?"

While the voluntary sale of an organ is moral and should be protected by law, I am disturbed by this story. I do not know enough about China's legal system to conclude that they are executing only those criminals who deserve death. Additionally, I have qualms with giving money to a government such that denies basic civil rights. I believe, given my level of knowledge, it would be immoral to purchase an organ from the PRC. Your thoughts?

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One problem I see is that rights don't really apply to a dead person, for one. No one owns the body, as far as I can determine, so if you took something from it there would be no fundamental violation of rights. This also applies to the government, however, but as one cannot really ask the "owner" for permission anymore it is a bit pointless to talk about taking something against someone's will here.

The situation would be far different if they took organs from living people.

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While the voluntary sale of an organ is moral and should be protected by law, I am disturbed by this story. I do not know enough about China's legal system to conclude that they are executing only those criminals who deserve death. Additionally, I have qualms with giving money to a government such that denies basic civil rights. I believe, given my level of knowledge, it would be immoral to purchase an organ from the PRC. Your thoughts?

First, you are right that many of the prisoners executed in China probably don't deserve it, since they do execute people for having anti-Communist views. So in this case, it may have been immoral of the government to execute him in the first place. But on the other hand, if I am about to die, I personally wouldn't care who gets the money. I place a higher value on my life than I do on keeping a few thousand dollars out of the hands of the Chinese government.

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I do not know enough about China's legal system to conclude that they are executing only those criminals who deserve death.
Such as drug trafficking, re-selling VAT receipts, pimping, habitual theft, stealing or dealing in national treasures or cultural relics, publishing pornography, selling counterfeit money, economic offences such as graft, speculation and profiteering, killing a panda. Edited by DavidOdden
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I'd say that what happens with your body after your death has to be part of the testament.

I agree, but for that to happen there has to actually be a testament. What I am talking about here is a more fundamental issue, namely, whether or not an individual's rights can still be violated after his death. It was my impression that only a living human actually has rights. So, I wonder in what sense the body still belongs to anyone, because there is no owner anymore.

If there is a testament, then there's really no problem, but it could be interesting in the cases where there isn't one. Would the body then become just another natural resource, so to speak, that anyone can "use" if they so wished?

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Could you explain how you come to that conclusion? Why should it belong the the next of kin?
This is a well-founded legal principle, reflecting the fact that people usually wish to give their property to their spouses or children upon their death. The right to override that default is guaranteed by the right to will your property to anyone, but if you don't say anything, the law has to make some assumption.
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Such as drug trafficking, re-selling VAT receipts, pimping, habitual theft, stealing or dealing in national treasures or cultural relics, publishing pornography, selling counterfeit money, economic offences such as graft, speculation and profiteering, killing a panda.

I am going to make a leap of faith here and assume that the vast majority of executions in China are proper. Amnesty International reported a spike of 2,500 executions in 2001, which is not unreasonable for a population of a billion people. If it were up to me, there would certainly be MORE than 2,500 executions per year in the U.S, with a population of 300 million – and all the organs from those executions would be sold to pay legal costs and compensate victims.

High-level Chinese officials have actually talked about reforming or ending the death penalty, which I think would be the wrong lesson to learn about human rights. The problem is with the lack of objective law, not the particular punishments used.

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I am going to make a leap of faith here and assume that the vast majority of executions in China are proper.
I guess faith is hard to argue with. The question is, when can an execution be proper -- for all rights-violations, or just some (specifically, murder)?
The problem is with the lack of objective law, not the particular punishments used.
These are related problems, hence the Blackstone ratio and the conclusion that it is preferable to sentence ten murderers to life imprisonment, rather than sentence one innocent man to death. Under an objective system of law, not only would the punishment be appropriate to the crime (as required by the virtue of justice), but also because of the possibility of error and the irrevocability of death, it must be absolutely certain that the accused is in fact guilt of the crime. The complete lack of objective law in Red China means that not a single execution carried out by that dictatorship is proper.
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An individual's property cannot simply be taken by anyone afterr his death, even in the abscence of a will. Since his body was an individual's property, the same principles should apply.

Years ago Larry Niven wrote several science fiction pieces dealing with what he called "The organ bank problem." The first of these "Jigzaw Man" (WARNING spoilers follow) examines the consequences of making the organs of executed felons available for transplants. Namely that ever lesser offenses are given the death penalty. In the "Jigzaw Man" story (this is the SPOILER), we see a man sentenced to death for traffic violations.

Niven, however, assumes organ transplants to be more than a life-saving technique. He sees them also as a life-prolonging technique. As one's body ages, one's organs wear out. Therefore people would live longer if they could easily replace their worn-out organs as needed. This isn't necessarily true. Thus far, organ transplants are an extreme measure, used only when no other treatment will save a life, or when other treatments fail.

This is in large part a result of a shortage of organs. Everywhere in the world, more poeple need an organ than there are organs available. Given the current transplant system, these will go to those who need it most urgently, ie those who will die without a transplant.

If organ sales were freely allowed, either from dead or living sources, the distribution of organs would perforce change. Not at first, perhaps, but in time, particularly as therapies to handle rejection keep improving.

By free sales I mean that anyone could sell any organs they wanted when they are legally entitled to do so. That is to say, if your husband left you his organs, you could sell them. If he donated them to a charity or a transplant system, you could not.

In time, poeple not in imminent danger of death by organ failure might begin to acquire organs to lenghten their lives (if such techniques do indeed work). Then governments might see it as profitable to sell organs from executed felons. Then we may get to see a slippery slope of death sentences.

Of course, this last could be avoided simply by making it illegal for any government (local, state or federal) to sell any organs at all. Organs from death-row felons would either be willed by the felon, or transfered to their next of kin, or even given away to charities.

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An individual's property cannot simply be taken by anyone afterr his death, even in the abscence of a will. Since his body was an individual's property, the same principles should apply.

If the state confiscates your property as the punishment for a crime, following due process, it is not taken by “simply anyone.”

I think that under a system of objective law, the death penalty should be used in all capital cases where the criminal is not capable of paying back the victim.

The complete lack of objective law in Red China means that not a single execution carried out by that dictatorship is proper.

I agree with you, but from a policy standpoint, it is far better to advocate that China adopts a system of objective law than abolish the death penalty.

This is in large part a result of a shortage of organs. Everywhere in the world, more poeple need an organ than there are organs available. Given the current transplant system, these will go to those who need it most urgently, ie those who will die without a transplant.

To be more precise, the shortage is created because of government price regulations. The state’s ban on a market for organ sales kills millions every year. Organs are still bought and sold, but by indirect transactions and and at black markets.

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I want to make it clear that I see nothing morally wrong with selling the organs of some criminals after execution, regardless of their religious beliefs. My concern with the Chinese case is that they may already be descending that "slippery slope" in the organ/force market.

In the U.S. it's illegal to take organs or tissue from someone who has spent more than (I think) 72 consecutive hours in jail within the past year. They're a very high risk for diseases.
I think this is a good point regarding the current practicality of implementing this in the US. If prisons were reformed and the risk to the recipient was explained, I would see nothing wrong with it.

Also, I think the following point was already addressed, but I'll restate it. The government incentive to execute criminals due to organ sales would be lower under a free organ market, because prices would be lower across the board.

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I want to make it clear that I see nothing morally wrong with selling the organs of some criminals after execution, regardless of their religious beliefs. My concern with the Chinese case is that they may already be descending that "slippery slope" in the organ/force market.

The cadaver should revert to being the property of next-of-kin, just like it does when people die for other reasons. The state doesn't own prisoners or their assets.

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I want to make it clear that I see nothing morally wrong with selling the organs of some criminals after execution, regardless of their religious beliefs. My concern with the Chinese case is that they may already be descending that "slippery slope" in the organ/force market.

This is ridiculously understated. The Chinese government, if anybody has forgotten, is *communist*. *Anybody* for *any reason* could be executed. Expecting justice from such dictators is ludicrous. Selling the organs of the murdered victims of such a government is utterly monstrous and evil.

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This is ridiculously understated. The Chinese government, if anybody has forgotten, is *communist*. *Anybody* for *any reason* could be executed. Expecting justice from such dictators is ludicrous. Selling the organs of the murdered victims of such a government is utterly monstrous and evil.

The Chinese government hasn't been Communist in about 20 years, and it no longer indiscriminately kills people. It's not a capitalist utopia by any means, but you (I am referring to a number of posters) should do some research before making such broad statements. In various areas, China is now economically freer than the U.S.

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The cadaver should revert to being the property of next-of-kin, just like it does when people die for other reasons. The state doesn't own prisoners or their assets.
In the sense that the state dispenses with a convicted individual's money and, in some cases, life, I would say that they do exercise ownership. The state just chooses to relinquish ownership after the sentence is carried out. Is there a reason why they shouldn't retain that ownership?
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The Chinese government hasn't been Communist in about 20 years, and it no longer indiscriminately kills people. It's not a capitalist utopia by any means, but you (I am referring to a number of posters) should do some research before making such broad statements. In various areas, China is now economically freer than the U.S.

Apparently the Chinese haven't been informed of this, viz:

http://www.china.org.cn/english/features/38810.htm

http://www.china.org.cn/english/features/44506.htm

http://www.chinatoday.com/org/cpc/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communist_Party_of_China

http://www.bartleby.com/65/co/CommunisChi.html

Re: executions, let's see:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/1425570.stm

China executed more people in the last three months than the rest of the world did in the past three years, the human rights group Amnesty International says.

In a report published on Friday, the London-based group said China has put people to death not just for violent crimes, but also for offences such as bribery, embezzlement and stealing gasoline.

That was 2001, pretty recent. Since China has literally tens of thousands of censors and the press is completely controlled - one of the hallmarks of a dictatorship identified by Ayn Rand - that does not of course count unreported deaths.

http://www.ecoi.net/pub/dh1850_02005chi.htm

A 2001 New York Times article on the subject.

http://www.justresponse.net/Wang_Zhang.html

Speaking of censorship, this demonstrates the difference in Chinese-government sanitized Google queries on images of Tiananmen Square vs. the U.S. accessible version:

http://www.computerbytesman.com/google/ima...h.htm?tiananmen

Edited by Unconquered
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  • 2 weeks later...
In the sense that the state dispenses with a convicted individual's money and, in some cases, life, I would say that they do exercise ownership. The state just chooses to relinquish ownership after the sentence is carried out. Is there a reason why they shouldn't retain that ownership?

The only thing the government can do is to charge the prisoner for the cost of the trial and execution. Everything above that sum goes back to the legal heirs. If you allow the government to actually make profit from selling organs you will see a sudden increase of criminal laws...

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The only thing the government can do is to charge the prisoner for the cost of the trial and execution. Everything above that sum goes back to the legal heirs. If you allow the government to actually make profit from selling organs you will see a sudden increase of criminal laws...
This is a reasonable fear. If the criminal being executed, he must have committed a heinous crime. The government could donate the profit from his organ sale to the offended party's estate. Do you think there is too much room for abuse in this situation?

Nice sig line, by the way.

Edit: I don't see it anymore. It used to be "If A is A, then is is is?"

Edited by FeatherFall
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The government could donate the profit from his organ sale to the offended party's estate.

I don't think the government should be selling the organs and "donating" the money to the victim. The victim should get ownership of the body. They can choose to sell the organs if they want.

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After thinking about it, I don't think that there is any reason to say that a government must do anything with the organs of an executed criminal. There are many reasons why it shouldn't - disease, for instance. I suppose, in this respect, this question is a lot like the question of the death penalty. It isn't necessarily wrong, but the liability may not make it worthwhile.

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