Organ Trafficking

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Time and again, human beings have been told that they have autonomy over their bodies. This means that they govern what happens to their own bodies. This is, however, not the case for an individual who has already breathed their last, and in particular, those who had chosen, during their time alive, to donate organs their organs once they died.

Having autonomy over your body means having the right to decide what happens to it once you are no longer living. Though this is respected by most, there still exists an issue with organ trafficking. This essay will look at both arguments and point out the similarities and differences.

Donors Have No Rights to Donated Tissue

The law pertaining ownership of donated human tissue has never been clear cut. It is often assumed that research institutions retain the right to study or dispose of human tissue specimens as well as the patient data. The Code of Medical Ethics of the American Medical Association, however, has prohibited the use of these tissues, and/or their products, for commercial use if the donor has not given their informed consent.

There have been court cases challenging the aforementioned assumption. In three different cases, the judges held that patient ceased having ownership rights over their cells and tissues once they left their bodies. In one of the cases, it was mentioned that once a donor had consented to giving their organs, or human body tissues, as a "free and generous gift" to a scientific research institution, they gave up the ownership interest that would allow them to authorize the transfer of the said organs to a third party.

Trouble with Organ Trafficking

In the case of Organ Trafficking, we see a violation of the right to autonomy with regards to one's body. This is not in the act of paying an individual for their organ but in the coercion. Most of these 'donors' are poverty stricken and are paid peanuts to give up their organs or part of their human tissue. The reason the poor people are exploited is that the practice of giving organs for money is outlawed and is thus done without the knowledge of the government. The donors, for fear of being court and the promise of an out from poverty, take whatever they can get from the traffickers, who in turn make more than ten times what they pay them.

Legalizing organ trade, however, may not be the most viable solution. Regulating such a market would prove to be difficult. On top of that, there would still need to be a form of consent from the individual. Legalizing organ trade would be in violation of medical ethics of health care workers. Their oath, "do no harm" if the only reason a donor is going through the harm of surgery, is to eradicate his own poverty.

Legalizing organ trade would still prey on the poverty stricken that would be pushed to sell their organs due to the tough circumstances. The minute a poor person is offered a lot of money to part with a body organ, they would make the seemingly rational decision and take it. This does not mean that the donation was voluntary as for one to choose to do this. For the donation to be deemed a choice, they would need options and some degree of freedom. Retaining the laws and policies, that prohibits organ trafficking, makes ethical sense for now. This can only be changed if we can devise a way for transplant centers and their surgeons to be accountable for each organ they set out to use.


Looking at both case studies, we see that a donor might believe he or she has control over their organs and human tissues after donation yet in reality, it is not the case. On signing over the organs they also sign over the power to dictate what happens to them.

We also see a similarity in that, in both cases, the organs cannot be harvested without the consent of the donor. The donor must sign over the organ before it is taken out and one cannot be physically forced to give away a part of their body.


The first and most prominent difference between both arguments lies in the legality. A researcher having the discretion to do as they please with a donated organ or tissue is legal. On the other hand, obtaining organs from donors, through manipulation, for commercial gain is illegal.

Secondly, the premise that a donor has no right or power over how the organs are used or disposed of does not go against a medical practitioner's code of ethics. Organ trafficking completely goes against the code of ethics by unnecessarily, and through coercion, putting an individual through an invasive surgery just for material gain.


As far as ownership of donor tissue goes, the assumptions made, by medical practitioners, researchers and research institutions have held regardless of how unfair they may seem. A donor, or their family, is not given a chance to have a say when it comes to what happens to donated organs or human tissues, once they have been donated.

On the issue of organ trafficking, we see the injustice that comes along with it since it's merely exploiting of the poverty stricken. It is very unethical for a medical practitioner to accept an organ or human tissue from an individual who is not donating out of their own free will. Even if organ trade became a legal practice, the target audience would still be the poor, so they would still be giving up parts of themselves for commercial gain.

In conclusion, we see a consensus when it comes to consent and organ donation but that is as far as the donor can be involved. Once the ownership has been signed over, the donor ceases to have any right over what happens to the organ or the human tissue. The only way a donor can have any involvement in how it can be used is if he or she detailed how they wanted the organ to be used. If not, then it is at the discretion of the researchers or doctors to decide what to do with the donation.

In my opinion, it would make little to no sense for an individual to donate and then go on to dictate how it should be used. Secondly, a donation should be based on free will and choice and not coercion and exploitation.


Caplan, Arthur. The Trouble with Organ Trafficking. 2009.

Schleiter, Kristen E. Donors Have No Rights to Donated Tissue. American Medical Association Journal of Ethics, 2009.

August 21, 2023


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