The film The Island posits a near future where the very rich can have human clones of themselves manufactured and maintained. It is a form of health insurance, a ready supply of perfectly matched organs for transplanting. Their cloned replicas are kept blissfully unaware of the reason they exist. They don't know their fate is to be cut up for parts. It's a good movie, although frightening.
Friday's Slate Magazine has an article by Sally Satel calling for a commodities market for human transplant organs. Satel is a kidney transplant recipient and I don't doubt she is sincere in her desire to increase the amount of available organs for transplant by offering cash payments for human organs. Unfortunately, the practice of paying for human body parts has a long mostly gory history.
In the 19th Century a thriving industry grew up around communities with teaching hospitals to provide fresh cadavers for the study of anatomy. Body-snatchers, often called ghouls, would dig up the corpses of the recently deceased and sell them to medical schools. These ghouls were willing to resort to murder to provide the freshest, most valuable bodies.
Today, there is a flourishing trade in organs. Will Saletan, also in Slate, described the state of the underground trade in body parts in an 2007 article. Forty percent of people in some Pakistan villages are missing a kidney. Fresh organs extracted from living "donors" have the best chances of successful transplant. Egypt, India, the Philippines, the Ukraine, American prisons, everywhere that jobs are impossible to find there are people willing to sell and buy irreplaceable body parts for money. Often, if a deal can not be made the organ brokers will simply steal it. Forced organ harvesting is happening throughout much of the Third World. In China prisoners are having their organs extracted without consent. In large cities modern ghouls are kidnapping people off the street to steal their organs.
Satel believes that a formal, legalized trade in body parts will end the worse excesses of the underground trade. Perhaps. It will also increase and legalize the gap between the social castes. The rich are no longer simply seeing the poor as a source of cheap labor, the poor are becoming consumables. Less even than slaves, the poorest of our planet are being cut up and consumed by the rich. They are becoming more like cattle than men.