Gilbert Meilander has written an interesting piece in the most recent issue of First Things on a new proposal by Prime Minister Gordon Brown:

[Paul] Ramsey’s comparative analysis might remind us that the prime minister’s proposal is not the worst we can envision. Ours is a world in which an increasing number of voices support some form of payment for organs (or, sometimes, for organs from specific populations, such as prisoners nearing death)—thereby turning potential donors into vendors and the body into a collection of parts that are available and alienable if the price is right. This would, Ramsey seemed to think, and I am inclined to agree, be worse than what Mr. Brown has in mind.

Nor, I think, will it do to object to Mr. Brown’s ­proposal on the ground that my body is my property alone, no part of which should be taken or used ­without my explicit consent. There are, after all, ­occasions—if, for example, an autopsy is deemed ­necessary—when we allow the needs of the larger ­society to override the bodily integrity of a deceased individual. More important, though, is that “property” does not seem to be the right way to think of my body’s relation to me. Thinking in those terms may, in fact, leave us defenseless in the face of arguments supporting a market in organs.

Nor is the body of the deceased best thought of as property of his surviving family. If their wishes about its disposal ought to be honored, that is not because they own the body. It is because the life they shared with this one who has died obligates them to give his body proper burial—and the rest of us should do nothing that makes their duty more onerous than it of necessity is or that forces them, while grieving, to fight for the right to carry out such a fundamental human duty. “There is,” as William F. May once put it, “a tinge of the inhuman in the humanitarianism of those who believe that the perception of social need easily overrides all other considerations.”

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