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5.3. Human Tissue Transplants: Gift or Commodity?

- IIvo Kwon, M.D.
Gachon Medical School

Abstract only

Now human tissue transplants are widely used in many fields of the Medicine and the Dentistry. They cover the bone, cartilage, skin, tendon, vessels and so on. Some people estimate the value of human tissue from one donor reaches 150,000-200,000 dollar, therefore it can be a big money making business.

From the view of healthcare, there are so many risks of the possibility of the infection, poisoning, or cancer cell remnant for it. The wide distribution (thousands of recipients from one donor!) can make the condition worse. Ethically it requires very strict informed consent of the donor and socio-cultural permission.

In September a dentist went to jail by the public prosecutor because he had tried to build up human tissue procuring and distributing system in a profitable way. He made the Korea Human Tissue Bank (KHTB), where 16 cadavers (including 4 cadavers donated only for research purpose) were manufactured and sold as form of tissue prosthesis. The total value of them was 600 million Won (about 500,000 US $). Some of the cadavers neglected the proper informed consent; others have viral infections and cancers. He tempted the poor old men and ladies for cadaver donation by saying that they would be paid the cost for the funeral after death.

There is no official legal regulation for such an activity in Korea yet. The Act for Organ Transplantation and Brain Death of Korea regulates only visceral organs and cornea. We should establish such regulations as soon as possible considering the following things.

  1. The proper and well-established informed consent from the donor himself is very essential. Familial or proxy consent should be limited to very special cases because of the risk of the dead body selling. The donation from the under age should be also restricted.
  2. The procedure of the procuring and distributing tissues should be transparent and monitored by the public organization. The whole procedure should satisfy the known scientific standard for safety.
  3. The cost of the final tissue products should be reasonable and finally covered by the National Health Insurance System.

The human cadaver is no more an annoying waste, but becomes a very valuable resource. We should be cautious not to be tempted to use it for the commercial use masked with the benevolence, and try to keep the respect for human dignity not destroyed by the death.

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Eubios Ethics Institute | Book List | TOP - Asian Bioethics in the 21st Century