Rebirth of Reason

War for Men's Minds

A Free Market of, by and for Human Life
by Jonathan R

In a free country, who should have the moral-and hence legal-right to decide what an individual does with his own body: the state or the individual? Whose body-and hence whose life-is it?

In the Declaration of Independence Thomas Jefferson gave us a clear answer. Man, he proclaimed, possesses an inalienable right to his own life. Thus, one's body belongs exclusively and absolutely to oneself. If a person chooses to prostitute himself, he should be legally able to do so. If a person chooses to abuse drugs, he should be legally able to do so. And if a person chooses to sell his organs, he should be legally able to do so. The principal is that as long as an individual does not initiate force against others, which means as long as he does not infringe the rights of others, he must be free to act on his choices.

Now say you need a heart transplant. What happens, under the current system, if the state appropriates your right to your body? In short, bureaucrats consign you to an often-terminal waiting list that, as of May 2001, totaled 50,000 helpless souls. Maybe you'd obtain your organ, maybe you wouldn't.

On the other hand, what happens when the state recognizes your right to your body? In short, you could buy your organ from a company or individual and thereby reclaim your life. For instance, consider how many people would sign a contract selling their organs upon their death, in exchange for money here and now. Such entrepreneurs would harm nobody in any way, yet they would easily save countless lives-individual human beings with faces, identities and life stories. This, after all, is the same process we rely on to facilitate life's other necessities, like food, clothing, and shelter; we do not wait for donations, but go and earn them, by means of the trader principle.

However, seeking to safeguard what Pope John Paul II ambiguously calls the "dignity of the human person," many argue that commercializing organs-equating a body with money-is "irresponsible"[1] and degrading. Thus, the National Organ Transplant Act of 1984 prohibits "any person to knowingly acquire, receive, or otherwise transfer any human organ for valuable consideration for use in human transplantation."

But such statism rests on the premises of tyranny, not freedom. The logic involved would justify everything from the federal Department of Procreation to ensure that we all make love in a "dignified" manner, to the food police to ensure that we all maintain a "responsible" diet. The idea that the state has rights over your body can have only one ultimate consequence: the end of freedom.

For to deny a person the right to dispose of his body is to deny him his right to exist. Yes, most of us cringe at the idea of selling our body parts. But we must recognize that freedom imposes on us each the responsibility to respect the noncoercive choices of others. The solution to the scarce supply of human organs, therefore, is to embrace the ethics of self-ownership and the politics of individual rights. To curtail preventable human suffering and premature death, we should establish a free market of, by, and for human life. Our lives depend on it.

[1] Francis Delmonico, as quoted in Michael Finkel, "Complications," New York Times Magazine, May 27, 2001.

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