Friday, July 21, 2006

WHO OWNS YOUR BODY? JOHN STOSSEL VERSUS JOHN LOCKE

“It all comes down to one simple question: Who owns your body, you or the government?” That’s the bottom-line question that John Stossel poses in “Myths, Lies, and Downright Stupidity.”

Stossel’s libertarian viewpoint is that you own your body and should have a right to put your parts on an organ market if you wish. The other side of the same coin says that government should butt out of transactions freely entered into by consenting adults. Accordingly, ABC’s 20/20 co-host quotes a patient needing a kidney transplant as follows: “If I make a deal with you, why is it the government’s business?”

The rest of Stossel’s utilitarian argument notes that 6,000 persons die every year while languishing on a wait-list that’s 30,000 names long. If pure capitalism can reduce that number significantly, then why not put kidneys on a commodities board alongside pork bellies and soybeans?

Before getting carried away with the notion that “the market” is the answer to every question, it would be wise to note that more fundamental building blocks stand at the base of American institutions and society—including an ethic that embraces those “unalienable rights” listed in the Declaration of Independence.

According to that document these rights come from a “Creator” and, as such, are not subject to contractual alienation. Thus, while a person can agree to work for another individual for nine dollars an hour, he can’t sell himself into slavery—not even for nine hundred thousand dollars. (In this case, of course, philosophy preceded its historical realization.) Likewise, under the doctrine of unalienable rights, individuals aren’t permitted to put their lives on the trading block, no matter what the incentives.

(Readers might recall the 2001 case where a fellow in Germany consented to be cannibalized—a contract that was discounted entirely by a retrial judge who in May upped the "Rotenburg cannibal's" 2004 sentence from eight years to life in prison.)

John Locke, a philosopher not known for religiosity, observed that humans are God’s “property, made to live for his, not one another’s, pleasure.” This comment, which has a distinctly creedal ring, puts one’s body in a different class from used Hondas or laptop computers. It also recognizes the indissoluble bond that exists between body and soul—a bond that is obscured when one reduces the former to a piece of real estate marketable by a disembodied agent.

The effects of a kidney exchange wouldn’t stop with eyes and other organs. Such markets would also alter our basic notions of who we are. The idea that life is “unalienable” has already been drastically undermined by legally transforming unwanted babies in utero into valueless appendages. The notion that human life is a sacred gift will surely collapse once the vessel within which and by which that life exists is treated as a rack of meat. Indeed, if one’s own body is imagined thus, how much less respect will individuals have for strange cuts of beef?

4 comments:

Benjamin Bush Jr. said...

Your point about ownership is clearly made.
But what happens if your body, which is owned by God, is claimed by the government as theirs?
What if the state claims your children as their property? How do you respond to such claims?

As to the slavery issue, the same Creator you mention has his Book in which he mentions that the borrower is slave to the lender. That is slave by contract. Strictly speaking, America has mnore slaves than any other nation in the world. If you don't believe that, try missing your mortgage payments or other payments for a few months and see what happens? Is the Creator mistaken is his assessment of the creditor-debtor relationship?
Also, in the Constitution on of those inalienable rights is the right to contract. Our constitution only outlaws "involuntary" servitude. This country is full of "voluntary" contractual slaves.

RKirk said...

If the government claims what belongs to God, then morally and religiously speaking, that claim is nullified. Practically speaking, one may resist such tyrannical assertions by whatever means are expedient and morally justified.

It wasn't the power of individuals or even of the Catholic church that undermined the commonly held idea of the omnipotent state. It was the constant reiteration and power of the idea that the king himself is bound by obligations to his subjects, obligations rooted in the natural law to which Thomas Aquinas and John Locke appeal.

As to your second point, I don't accept the basic notion that "the borrower is slave to the lender." Having obligations rooted in a contract isn't slavery. Indeed, it is almost the opposite of slavery, since the owner of a slave is not bound by a "contract" between himself and the slave. Any contract that exists is between slaveowners, for whom the slave is a peculiar form of property.

Missing a mortgage payment, like shoplifting, concerns failure to pay for goods. "Thou shalt not steal," is the primary biblical citation--a citation mitigated by others that have to do with forgiveness. The latter principle is given expression via bankruptcy laws and the abolition of debtors prisons. Fines and the garnishment of wages are not equivalent to enslavement--as a real slave will quickly attest.

Benjamin Bush Jr. said...

Mr Kirk,

If God is our Creator, what are our obligations, if any, to Him as Creator?

RKirk said...

The passages most clearly connected with Creation, the narratives in Genesis one and two, provide these directives and obligations: "Be fruitful and multiply," "have dominion," (by which I understand that man should rule on earth as god rules beneficently over all things), and "till and keep the earth."

Since animals and mankind share the "breath of life" and since the animals and man are linked directly to "the earth," the implication is that "keeping" the earth means (as various Old Testament laws suggest) responsible stewardship.

I care for the animals in my sphere of influence and make sure that the land about me is "tended" nicely. I recycle, within reason. And politically I support responsible stewardship--which is not the same as the agenda of radical environmentals for whom (this is reiterated often by them) mankind is a cancer on the earth.

Misanthropy isn't responsible stewardship. One also has responsibilities, even higher responsibilities, to one's fellow man. In a tussel between the two, human needs (needs, not desires) get priority.