Bioethics Blogs

Bodies as Property vs. Bodies as Gift

This past week I had the privilege of hearing Dr. Daniel Sulmasy speak on the topic of bioethics in public policy, sharing in part about his experience with the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Problems. In the process of sharing, he made the striking statement that people do not own their genomes. This was later unpacked in the Q&A time where he emphasized that we do not own our bodies. Rather, they are a gift, because life is a gift.

This statement that individuals do not own their bodies stands in stark relief in a culture that by and large equates the rights of individuals with property. We own our bodies, and therefore no one can tell us what we can and cannot do with them. However, a “Bodies as Property” mentality leaves the door open for a wide range of bioethical concerns. If we own our bodies do we have the right to sell our kidney, liver, arm, or blood to the highest bidder? Do women have the right to sell their reproductive services, or do the terminally ill have the right to throw their body away, so to speak, through euthanasia or physician assisted suicide? Many people would hold to the idea that our bodies are our property, yet they may also be hesitant to advocate for practices such as those listed above.

In contrast, viewing our bodies as a gift is a paradigm shift that also has far-reaching implications. If our bodies and life are a gift, this implies that a posture of gratitude is appropriate.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.