I recently learned three interesting and disturbing facts. First, I have a distant, 5 year old relative with liver failure. He will be dead within weeks unless a suitable liver donor is found. Second the lobe from a living adult’s liver can be used to save his life. Third, I am a match. I learned these things when I was received notification from the National Transplant Registry. They also informed me when the surgery will take place, when I am to arrive at the hospital, and that I have no choice. I will be donating a lobe of my liver. It was the first time I knew about any of this.
Apparently my life is my own, except when it isn’t. The life of my young relative is so precious, so important, that my wishes are of no consequence. I am the vessel for his survival. I am the means to his ends but not to my own.
You can imagine how outraged I feel. I don’t feel outrage about his need, but about my lack of agency — my lack of control over my own body.
This is, of course, nonsense. Hyperbole if you like. There is no transplant registry in the world that can mandate surgery; there is no country in the world where one person’s body is just the means for supporting the life of another.
Unless you are a woman.
All over the world, as a matter of law, women are obliged to make their bodies available as the means to another’s end. In many countries, to withdraw the service is a criminal offence, resulting, in substantial jail terms. We call this protecting the right to life. They call it an unwanted pregnancy.
Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states inter alia that “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude.” I am the means to my own ends and I can choose when to be the means to another’s ends. Being held in servitude is being forced, for however limited a duration, to be the means to another’s ends. It is a rights violation whether it is a requirement to give up a part of your liver to save another, or to provide rental space in your abdomen.