A choice no one should have to make

Emma Derr

Last Wednesday in Lee Chapel, Peter Singer delivered the keynote lecture in the Roger Mudd Center of Ethics’ “Markets and Morals” series. In 2005, Singer was deemed in Time Magazine as one of the most influential people in the world and has accumulated much renown for his controversial ethical arguments.

I first encountered Singer in Poverty 101. After reading his “Famine, Affluence, and Morality” piece, I was startled to encounter his work again in my Animal Minds class. A pioneer in the modern animal rights movement, his book, “Animal Liberation” has attracted much attention and was included on the list of the 100 best English nonfiction books. Although an odd interdisciplinary crossover, it was precisely reflected in his speech.

The topic of his talk on Wednesday was “Permitting the sale of Meat But Not Kidneys or Sex? Some Questions About Markets and Morals.”

In framing his argument advocating for the free sale of organs, Singer stated that it would give the poor an additional way to earn money. He stated that the market could be structured to create long-term benefits for the participants. Sale of a kidney would save a life and also provide an asset to the poor, who, Singer says, are always in need of more financial options to gain capital.

In the U.S., where the waiting list for a kidney tops 100,000 people and 7 percent of the Medicare budget is spent on dialysis alone, it would seem to make sense. A market for kidneys would reduce the demand for a black market, reduce spending on healthcare and give assets to the poor.

It is in this way that he also argued for the legalization of “sex work,” which he defined as the “consensual exchange of sexual services for money.” Singer discussed sex work in direct distinction to trafficking, which he said is not consensual and not acceptable.

Singer cited the example of Rhode Island, where sex work was legalized and the percentage of rape decreased by 31 percent. Not only would it decrease crime, but Singer also argued that it would provide a viable source of income to the poor.

Thus, in Singer’s view, both markets, kidney sale and sex work, could be legitimate pillars in the foundation our society is building to alleviate poverty.

But, the question must be asked, why should people have to rely on this? It is highly unlikely that selling a vital organ or marketing one’s body would be a first, second, or even third choice for someone struggling to make ends meet.

Shouldn’t our efforts as a society focus on better ways to alleviate poverty?

Shouldn’t we focus on improving access to medical care, high-quality education, adequate nutrition, standard income and equal treatment as more realistic and long-term ways to alleviate poverty? So, yes, creating markets to sell a kidney or sex does not force one to do so. It does create a choice, but no one should ever feel the need to make that choice. This is where we as a society need to begin considering how far and deep-seated the problem of poverty has infiltrated our country and how important it is to assess long-term solutions.