Reference Work Entry

Handbook of Global Bioethics

pp 581-598


Commodification of Human Tissue

  • Herjeet MarwayAffiliated withSchool of Philosophy, Theology & Religion, University of Birmingham Email author 
  • , Sarah-Louise JohnsonAffiliated withDepartment of Philosophy, University of Birmingham
  • , Heather WiddowsAffiliated withSchool of Philosophy, Theology & Religion, College of Arts and Law, University of Birmingham


Commodification is a broad and crosscutting issue that spans debates in ethics (from prostitution to global market practices) and bioethics (from the sale of body parts to genetic enhancement). There has been disagreement, however, over what constitutes commodification, whether it is happening, and whether it is of ethical import. This chapter focuses on one area of the discussion in bioethics – the commodification of human tissue – and addresses these questions – about the characteristics of commodification, its pervasiveness, and ethical significance – in order to clarify and map the commodificatory debate.

The chapter does this in three parts. First, it defines commodification as the shift from “persons” to “things” and from “relationships” to services for “contract.” Second, using examples of kidney and gamete sale and commercial surrogacy, it argues that commodification is rife in bioethics. Third, it contends that commodification is an ethical problem for three key reasons: First, because it leads to exploitation; second, because some things should not be for sale; and third, because it damages social goods. The chapter concludes that commodification and commodificatory practices should be resisted.