The Organ-trading Debate: Clearer Thinking Please!

September 4, 2008

The debate over organ-trading goes on. Tang Wee Sung, of CK Tang retail, was jailed for a day and fined on Wednesday in Singapore’s first kidney-for-sale case. Nevertheless, The Ministry of Health (MOH) has said that it will not rule out legalising organ trading.


This is one of the few instances when the government has shown some common sense. Despite all the objections from moralists and religious folks, MOH has steadfastly kept an open mind and for this Khaw Boon Wan should be applauded. There are as many as 600 people on the waiting list for a kidney, most of whom will have to wait for at least nine years before they get a transplant. The numbers for heart and other organs are not known.


Moralists have a deep-seated puritan fetish for archaic principles that do not allow the exchange of money for a body part. For these moralists, abstract principles are more important than human experience (I distinguish them from ethicists). Religious folks on the other hand have a deep-seated neurosis over the exchange of money for a body part because you just can’t buy God’s handiwork. The thinking of these religious folks goes like this: God shut down your kidney for a reason, and if you want to appeal this decision you have to get down on your knees and pray. The more people you can get to help you the better because God, apparently, likes mass petitions. [So much for ‘thy will be done’ but that’s another matter.]


But moralists and especially religious folks are not humanists. A humanist puts the concern and interest of a human being over other considerations. A human life, and the quality of this life, takes top priority, and everything else fits around this principle. Both the moralist and religious person may actually find it acceptable to allow a human being to suffer or die should it be possible to reconcile this suffering or death with their principles, philosophy or dogma.


And when you throw money into the mix, this results in a lot of woolly thinking from them. Take for example the below excerpt from CNA (5 Sept 2008). When asked if organ-trading should be legalized in Singapore, Ameerali Abdeali, president, Singapore Muslim Kidney Action Association, said:


“I think that Singapore’s society is not ready for organ trading and certainly not developing Singapore as an organ trading hub. That.. (is) not acceptable. But there can be certain scenarios where it can be comfortable.

“Take for example, one person is affluent and suffering from kidney failure and there’s another man who can give him that kidney, but his mother is critically ill in hospital and needs expensive surgery.

“So on this basis on quid pro quo, where no money actually exchange hands, this person pays for the medical bills and surgery bills for his donor’s mother. Personally, I’m comfortable with that and I don’t think that amounts to organ trading.”


What is the difference between giving the donor, say, $20,000 in cash and paying the donor’s mother’s medical bills up to S$20,000? Irrational aversion to money leads to such sorry pedantic reasoning. What if the donor has no medical need? What if he just wants extra cash to start a business or buy an expensive gift for his wife? Do these reasons alone disqualify him from selling his organ? On what grounds? 


I reckon many of these moralists and religious folks speak from ideological within bubbles. Many of them do not have to face the suffering of a loved one, confront the plain desperation to live or the certainty of impending death because of a failed organ. This is why they can be so self-righteous about the issue. And for those who do have loved ones in need of an organ, they explain this tragedy away as part of a deity’s higher and opaquely mysterious plan. It is not for them to understand this plan but for them to plead with him through frenzied whisperings to reverse his executive decision.


If such poor quality reasoning were merely part and parcel of a society with diverse intellects then it would not be a problem. However, such forms of reasoning are rooted in dogmatic religion and morality, and are being systematically reproduced from teacher to follower, from priest to congregation. It is something we ought to be alert to. Today it’s about organ-trading. Tomorrow it may be about something more personal.



One Response to “The Organ-trading Debate: Clearer Thinking Please!”

  1. An invitation to bloggers

    Dear Bloggers:

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    Singapore Kopitiam

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