Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Humans as Commodities

Is it a natural result of an unfettered capitalist system, this appreciation for person as commodity? 

After all, to the CEO of international corporation X, the worker is but a commodity, a cog in the machine to produce a widget at the most effective price point. True, the worker takes extra care, but the worker can be replaced with a new worker at will.

Peter Singer believes people in the womb are commodities, at least as he conceives the idea of genetic manipulation for purpose, although he is worried that "Some people might want to select according to characteristics that are in the interests of themselves and their children, but are not in the interests of society as a whole." Such is Singer's worldview: the prescription of what is right by those who know for those who falsely and selfishly regard themselves as worthy of making personal choices independently.

It's an interesting, if dated, interview in Salon, Singer proposed thoughts on euthanasia and abortion and similar subjects, most of which illustrate utilitarianism, but one that evolves toward his personal convenience and conception of right. Note his response to a question about the possibility of having a child with Down's Syndrome.  

I ran across Singer's old interview shortly after I stumbled up a story from Michigan about a woman who wanted to donate organs after being the subject of assisted euthanasia. She is ill with Multiple Sclerosis. She wants to be euthanized. She wants her organs to be harvested. From the gist of the television interview, she understands this will not happen. She is making the proposal to spur discussion about end-of-life issues.

The report is here, in short text, and expanded into a somewhat overly sentimental and pity-ladened television report.

The woman presents in her plea, which is a logical extension of Singer utilitarianism, although the television reporters didn't bother to allude to one source of harvesting: people subject to capital punishment. 

For that matter, they missed the opportunity to combine Singer and (the late) Kevorkian to suggest that unwanted infants might be usefully employed. Not to flex anyone's philosophy beyond recognition, but it is a small leap to suggest that people without utilitarian value—me, in a wheelchair; people institutionalized for physical or mental reasons—should serve as organ farms for the more useful members of society. 

In some sense, we have that already, at least in a more benign form. Aren't there medical tourists traveling outside the developed world to purchase kidneys? That's unnecessary outsourcing, in my book. Certainly there are some poor folk in the USA willing to pony up a kidney for a wall-size screen display, a lifetime satellite television subscription, and a new pick-up truck.

Personally, I think society, or at least western societies, are moving toward some sort of melding between scientific utilitarianism and human life. There's much fuss from out-of-touch traditionalists and rationalization from the choice corner over sex selection abortion; over nipping one or two multiples from the womb while leaving one to survive; genetic manipulations; prenatal testing and then termination of Down Syndrome children in the womb; and other choices for convenience. 

Nearly every individual choice can be justified, short of murder (unless it's self-murder, of course, which is entirely acceptable if you're willing to donate spare parts), but the collective choices are shaping society beyond our imagination. 

In fact, there's a story from Europe circulating in the news currently about a proposal by the European Union to mandate that vehicles be equipped with technology that keeps the vehicle from being driven faster than the posted speed limit. There's opposition, of course, but it is possible to see such a measure enacted. 

I see another chance for Singer utilitarianism to come to aid of public good. Slap those speed control devices on vehicles, and then mandate that those killed in vehicle accidents be subject to organ harvesting.

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