The Body as Gift, Resource or Commodity? Heidegger and the Ethics of Organ Transplantation

Abstract

Three metaphors appear to guide contemporary thinking about organ transplantation. Although the gift is the sanctioned metaphor for donating organs, the underlying perspective from the side of the state, authorities and the medical establishment often seems to be that the body shall rather be understood as a resource. The acute scarcity of organs, which generates a desperate demand in relation to a group of potential suppliers who are desperate to an equal extent, leads easily to the gift’s becoming, in reality, not only a resource, but also a commodity. In this paper, the claim is made that a successful explication of the gift metaphor in the case of organ transplantation and a complementary defence of the ethical primacy of the giving of organs need to be grounded in a philosophical anthropology which considers the implications of embodiment in a different and more substantial way than is generally the case in contemporary bioethics. I show that Heidegger’s phenomenology offers such an alternative, with the help of which we can understand why body parts could and, indeed, under certain circumstances, should be given to others in need, but yet are neither resources nor properties to be sold. The phenomenological exploration in question is tied to fundamental questions about what kind of relationship we have to our own bodies, as well as about what kind of relationship we have to each other as human beings sharing the same being-in-the-world as embodied creatures.

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Correspondence to Fredrik Svenaeus.

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Svenaeus, F. The Body as Gift, Resource or Commodity? Heidegger and the Ethics of Organ Transplantation. Bioethical Inquiry 7, 163–172 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11673-010-9222-x

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Keywords

  • Organ transplantation
  • Ethics
  • Phenomenology
  • Embodiment
  • Heidegger