Professor Richard Gardner of Oxford University, a renowned expert on human reproduction and an advisor to Britain's Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority, recently raised the prospect of using organs from aborted fetuses for transplantation into adults. This possibility offers the potential to save or improve the lives of the hundreds of thousands of patients in desperate need of such organs throughout the world, especially the more than 70,000 in the United States waiting for kidneys.The date of this story is 2009. I suspect this idea has been floating around for much longer than that.
(I was going to borrow Tyler Cowen's "markets in everything" for the title of this post, but I didn't want to infringe on his intellectual property rights. Of course, given a few of MR's patent-related posts recently, I take it he wouldn't mind!)
Pregnancy is, essentially, a way to produce an endless supply of organs to be given to those in need:
The first striking of fetal organs is that their supply, for all practical purposes, is unlimited. Unlike living kidney donors, who must then advance through life with only one functioning kidney, pregnant women who provide fetal kidneys could do so repeatedly without incurring the medical consequences of adult organ loss. When overseen by properly-trained physicians, abortion is an extremely safe procedure -- even safer than delivering an infant at term. Since far more women have legal abortions each year in the United States than would be required to clear organ wait-lists, if only a small percentage of those women could be persuaded to carry their fetuses to the necessary point of development for transplantation, society might realize significant public health benefits. The government could even step into the marketplace itself to purchase fetal organs for patients on Medicare and Medicaid, ensuring that low-income individuals had equal access to such organs while keeping the "asking price" elevated. [emphasis added]It's for the greater good, after all. And really, if we didn't have to deal with those clumsy, traditional wombs, we could just have little human farms all of over the place, giving us literally infinite access to replacement body parts:
Someday, if we are fortunate, scientific research may make possible farms of artificial "wombs" breeding fetuses for their organs...All of this technology promises us the gift of long life, of reduced pain and discomfort, of increased health and "well-being." The more we come to measure the value of life in terms of these things, the more we cheapen the inherent value of life. That is, we view human beings as means to an end, presumably our ends, but more likely ends which have been suggested to us by the amazing force of cultural cohesion and advertising.
Don't you want to live longer? Well do we have an offer for you!
Just make sure you understand what these guys are selling.