Are Human Beings Simply A Collection Of Body Parts?
Religion & Liberty Online

Are Human Beings Simply A Collection Of Body Parts?

There is nothing simple about Bl. John Paul II’s writings, and yet, his work collectively called the Theology of the Body offers a remarkable chance to reflect on the unique creation that is man. In modern culture, we see humanity reduced to a collection of parts (a lung to transplant, a womb to be rented) or as an instrument to be used (for lust or for slavery.) The human body has become “treachery”, as George Orwell notes in 1984, not a beautifully rendered creation. John Paul II:

There is a deep connection between the mystery of creation, as a gift springing from love, and that beatifying “beginning” of the existence of man as male and female, in the whole truth of their body and their sex, which is the pure and simple truth of communion between persons. When the first man exclaimed, at the sight of the woman: “This is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh” (Gn 2:23), he merely affirmed the human identity of both. Exclaiming in this way, he seems to say: here is a body that expresses the person!

Following a preceding passage of the Yahwist text, it can also be said that this “body” reveals the “living soul,” such as man became when God-Yahweh breathed life into him (cf. Gn 2:7). This resulted in his solitude before all other living beings. By traversing the depth of that original solitude, man now emerged in the dimension of the mutual gift. The expression of that gift—and for that reason the expression of his existence as a person—is the human body in all the original truth of its masculinity and femininity.

The surge of “trafficking” in humans gives us pause. Even the term – “human trafficking” – makes one think of moving “things” from one place to another, rather than the theft of a human life. Yet, bringing light to modern slavery can stop the slide towards Orwellian’s treachery, and remind us that each “body” is not simply a “body” – a collection of parts to be used, but the expression of a person, an immortal soul.

Dr. Henrietta Williams is a gynecologist who works in Nigeria, and was recently invited to present at the Vatican conference on human trafficking. She said that trafficking is a larger problem than most people think, with prostitution being what comes to most people’s minds when they hear that term.

[W]e’ve found that there are a lot of players in the background – we don’t know (exactly) who they are – who are making a lot of money: so called ‘respectable members’ of society, multinational companies, exploiting women not just for sex – for labor…

As a doctor, I’m actually very concerned with these young girls in Africa, in Nigeria,” she said, noting that special clinics called “fertility centers” recruit young girls ages 15-18 to donate eggs.

The girls are “paid some paltry sum – about 50 euros” [about $67 U.S.] so the clinics can “harvest eggs from them after hyperstimulation, which is actually a dangerous medical procedure. And the girls’ eggs are used for experimentation abroad,” the gynecologist explained.

Although the women “know that something is being done to them medically,” the clinics “don’t tell them what they are going to use the eggs for.” Because the women are illiterate, they often undergo operations without true “informed consent.”

Williams also notes the rise of “domestic slavery” or “bonding:”

It’s like borrowing money,” in that a family “bonds” their daughter to a person or group “and (they) expect that the girls are going off hopefully to make some money and bring some money back.”

“Others go as domestic workers, housemaids, to people abroad,” continued Williams, “but in actual fact the girls are exploited. They are used and their passports are seized and taken away and they have no freedom.”

Susan Sutovic, a human rights lawyer, knows about this type of exploitation. She believes her son, Petar, was murdered in Belgrade. The reason? To sell his heart on the black market.

[I]nternational organ trafficking is a growing trade.

The growth is down to two factors. First, a reduction in the number of legitimate organs available for transplant – due, in part, to better seatbelt legislation, which has cut the number of healthy young adults dying prematurely in road traffic accidents. And, second, an increase in the number of people waiting for transplants which have become more routine in recent years. As a result, organised criminals can now make a fortune from unethical clinics who will buy a heart, kidney or pancreas for wealthy patients.

It is now possible to order an organ on the internet. It’s also possible, if you are poor, desperate, and willing to part with, say, a kidney, to broker a deal with traffickers. Recent research by the World Health Organisation (WHO) found that traffickers illegally obtain 7,000 kidneys each year around the world.

Renting a womb in India is big business: over $400 million a year for that nation, with the average “surrogate” making between $6,000 to $8,000 for each pregnancy. India’s laws regarding surrogacy are very liberal.

A recent government-funded study of 100 surrogate mothers in Delhi and Mumbai found there was “no fixed rule” related to compensation and no insurance for post-delivery healthcare. It cited cases where surrogates were implanted with embryos multiple times to raise the chances of success.

“In most of these cases, the surrogate mothers are being exploited,” said Ranjana Kumari, director of the Centre for Social Research that conducted the study.

The psalmist says, “You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb. I praise you, because I am wonderfully made; wonderful are your works!” (Psalm 139) That is either true, or it isn’t. If it is true, then we are not simply a collection of parts to be bartered for and borrowed, a tool to be used, a high-functioning appliance. If it is true, then paying women for their eggs is wrong, cutting out parts of the poor for the purpose of selling is wrong, domestic servitude is wrong. The human body is “the original truth” – a truth our world wants us to deny.

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Elise Hilton

Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.