A shortage of human organs and tissues for transplants encourages unethical practices, said Rod Benson, director of the Center for Christian Ethics at Morling College in Sydney, Australia.
"The serious shortfall in supply of organs suitable for transplant increases the impetus for accepting organs from living donors (e.g. one kidney), increases pressure to allow commercial trade in organs, and encourages unethical procurement practices," Benson said in a paper delivered last week to the Christian Ethics Commission of the Baptist World Alliance meeting in Accra, Ghana.
A week-long BWA general council meeting was organized into committees and commissions where delegates addressed topics related to ethics, church leadership, Baptist history, doctrine and worship.
Benson said organ donation and transplantation technology provide "significant health and longevity benefits to patients." At the same time, the field is accompanied by "systematic corruption" in the "illicit procurement and trade of human organs."
More than 20 human organs can be transplanted into another human being, such as hearts, kidneys, lungs and corneas, he said. Yet "demand for transplant organs outweighs supply."
He noted that Australia had one of the lowest donor rates, although 90 percent of Australians favor organ donation. Spain was the top donor nation in the developed world.
It is the shortfall in available organs and tissues that increases "morally dubious and even criminal behavior," said Benson, a regular columnist for EthicsDaily.com.
His examples of sensational reports of organ harvesting included:
--Impoverished Turkish donors paid to travel to London for the harvesting of their kidneys for wealthy patients.
--Filipino prisoners receiving shortened sentence for kidney donations.
--Sudanese businessmen purchasing organs from poor Egyptians for wealthy Arabs.
--Chinese executing criminals to sell their organs and tissues
--A German businessman offering to pay for organs from bankrupt business executives.
The Australian Baptist leader said that there are four main ways to prioritize the allocation organs and tissues for transplantation: (1.) patients with serious medical needs; (2.) patients with the most social worth; (3.) patients with the best likely outcomes; and (4.) patients selected randomly through a lottery system.
Benson told Baptists from around the world that the principle of the common good, a prominent concept in Catholic social teachings, provides one avenue to address the ethical challenges of organ and tissue transplantation.
The common good "refers to a normative standard for evaluating the justice of social, legal and political arrangements promoting 'the full flourishing of everyone in the community,'" Benson said in his paper. "The common good is the common goal of all who promote the justice of a politically organized community, and its achievement delivers a common sense of fulfillment."
He explained, "The common good cannot be reduced to purely economic terms since it includes human relationships of mutuality, affection and non-rivalry--relationships entered into and necessary for their own sake, not merely in order to satisfy some pragmatic end."
The common good "is analogous to the biblical teaching on justice and shalom, and the Gospel imperative of neighbor love," Benson said. "It is a principle that seeks to protect a community against the excesses of despotism and individualism."
Benson said the exploitation of the poor and oppressed for profit and the health of some is a denial of their human rights.
The common good ought to be the goal of organ and tissue transplantation technology, said Benson, who expressed hope that Baptists would contribute to ethical practices related to transplantation.
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics and serves on the BWA's Freedom and Justice Commission. He attended the general council meeting in Accra.
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