Should we get money for marrow?
Bioethics department, club take on similar questions
It seems blood drive vans are always parked outside Clark Library or the Chemistry Building. Students sit in the vans for a few minutes, brave a quick needle prick and are on their way to saving a life. But would people be more inclined to give blood if there were a financial incentive? What if donors could receive money for selling other body parts such as organs or bone marrow?
That question is less hypothetical in light of a 2011 Federal Appeals Court ruling that allows nine states to provide up to $3,000 worth of compensation — in scholarships, educational vouchers, housing allowances and other incentives — for bone marrow. The ruling overturns a 1984 law criminalizing selling body parts, including bone marrow, for money. To many, the federal decision may not seem like a ground-breaking decision, as some body parts such as sperm, eggs, hair and plasma are already on the market. But extending the scope of body parts that are marketable poses serious ethical questions.
The argument for the decriminalization and regulation of such sales is logical given a precarious black market of organ sales both domestically and abroad. The speed and efficacy of new technology has allowed incredible advances to be made in the field of transplants and genetics. But these new technologies leave health care workers and patients wading in a pool of ethically unfamiliar territory. What defines a justified measure to save a life? How should money impact a person’s potential for extreme life-saving surgeries, transplants or life support?
With the enormous promise of biomedicine’s technological advances comes an equally massive predicament for deciding when, to whom, and for how much money all of these measures can be distributed. The bone marrow ruling is only one example of this widespread ethical uncertainty that will play out in the medical profession, in our legal system, in policy debates and even in family decisions. For this reason, the field of Bioethics, the study of ethical dimensions of healthcare, has gained tremendous traction among the world’s colleges and universities.
So many professions within the medical field, the legal field, and political arena are relying more and more on individuals with a vested interest and education in these kinds of “bioethical” issues. The University is not alone in having a Bioethics department, where students can enroll in philosophy, biology, religion and political theory classes that touch on important aspects and approaches for dealing with such issues.
Professors who teach some of these courses — such as Philosophy Prof. John Arras and James Childress, the John Allen Hollingsworth Professor of Ethics — have had extensive experience in the field, including advising more than one president of the United States.
Accompanying the evolution of the Bioethics department, a Bioethics Club has formed in the undergraduate community, where students interested in the subject — whether they’re considering the University’s bioethics minor or just contemplating the issues in general — can participate in discussions and events throughout the semester. This year, the organization is announcing a new ethics film festival titled: “Health Screenings: Bioethics, Public Health and Law at the Movies.”
Arras said the event will be a good way for students who are new to the subject to get involved. “This is an interdisciplinary and trans-school endeavor, involving the College, the Medical School, Public Health, and the Law School,” Arras said.
This semester has already seen two movie screenings; the first showed “Made in India,” a film about the off-shoring of gestational surrogacy, and the second showed “Dirty Pretty Things,” a film about the black market of human organs and passports in Britain.