Monash Bioethics Review

, Volume 34, Issue 3–4, pp 189–205 | Cite as

Does organ selling violate human dignity?

  • Zümrüt Alpinar-ŞencanEmail author
  • Holger Baumann
  • Nikola Biller-Andorno
Original Article


Shortages in the number of donated organs after death and the growing number of end-stage organ failure patients on waiting lists call for looking at alternatives to increase the number of organs that could be used for transplantation purposes. One option that has led to a legal and ethical debate is to have regulated markets in human organs. Opponents of a market in human organs offer different arguments that are mostly founded on contingent factors that can be adjusted. However, some authors have asked the question whether we still have a reason to believe that there is something wrong with offering human organs for sale for transplantation purposes, even if the circumstances under which the practice takes place are improved. One prominent argument regarding this appeals to the notion of human dignity. It is argued that organ selling violates human dignity. This paper presents a systematic discussion of dignity-based arguments in the organ selling debate, and then develops a social account of dignity. It is argued that allowing the practice of organ selling inherently runs the risk of promoting the notion that some persons have less worth than others and that persons have a price, which is incompatible with dignity. The approach is defended against possible objections and it is shown that it can capture the notion that autonomy is linked to human dignity in important ways, while dignity at the same time can constrain the autonomous choices of persons with regards to certain practices.


Autonomy Dignity Dignity as a constraint Dignity as empowerment Organ donation Organ markets Organ selling 



We would like to thank Dr. iur. Roberto Andorno for his valuable comments and suggestions. This research is a part of the project entitled “Human Dignity and Autonomy – The Limits of Self-Ownership” that is supported by the University of Zurich Research Priority Program for Ethics (URPP for Ethics) and the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF).


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Copyright information

© Monash University 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Biomedical Ethics and History of MedicineUniversity of ZurichZurichSwitzerland
  2. 2.The Center for EthicsUniversity of ZurichZurichSwitzerland

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