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New Cannibal Markets

Jean-Daniel Rainhorn
Samira El Boudamoussi

Part 6. The Bigger Picture

What else? Development, Gender, and Human-Rights

Philippe Goyens

Texte intégral

1The issues raised in this book about globalization and commodification of the human body are extremely vast and complex, and have significant human, social, medical, economic, legal, religious, and ethical implications. It is clear from the previous chapters that the questions are many and that much more research is necessary and of crucial importance.

2While the four previous parts are dedicated each to one specific topic involving globalization and commodification of the human body, this part approaches the debate transversally. The goal is to consider those same four topics from cross-disciplinary approaches such as development studies, gender studies, and human-rights.

3First, Firouzeh Nahavandi discusses the present international context—neoliberal globalization and development of new technologies—within which a new cannibal market is indeed emerging. She establishes a parallel between self-sale into slavery and self-sale of human body parts, both motivated by extreme poverty and distress, and between colonialism and “today’s inequality in wealth, and superiority of technological possibilities between world’s regions.” The author presents the phenomenon of commodification of the human body as a new form of exploitation of international inequalities. She underlines dehumanization and objectification as a key feature of such exploitation, but also as a means of justifying it.

4Second, Judit Sándor discusses whether commodification of the human body has gender implications, exploring in detail the hidden mechanisms underpinning the commodification and commercialization processes. The author raises the question of why the commercialization of human body parts is not prohibited when commodifying human beings—in the form of slavery—is banned by international and national laws: “Unlike slavery, however, the commercialization of certain parts or elements of the human body has never been universally prohibited throughout the world.” She argues that the hidden biases of these issues make it difficult to counter them with legal and policy methods in the same way as many gender issues still influence practices and thinking about women. Discrimination, vulnerability and different forms of exploitation still affect women and women’s bodies. “The question is whether these practices of commodification and exploitation of women’s bodies also influence the uses of tissues that are extracted from women.” She goes on to conclude that “personal rights provide the key to resolving legal questions about the human body in biotechnology.” However, efforts to promote women’s rights as human-rights is a complex issue. For instance, how can one separate women’s right to control their own fertility from their right to sell their own eggs, pay for their cryopreservation, purchase other women’s ova, or rent their womb?

5Finally, Debra Budiani-Saberi shows that a human-rights-based strategy is critical and should be “at the center of all efforts to prevent and combat trafficking and assist and protect victims.” This author focuses on the issue of human trafficking for organ removal (HTOR), which “should be tackled from a number of perspectives including public health, economics, migration, and crime control.” She argues however for a prioritization of a human-rights approach and explains the importance of such an approach, the reasons of this prioritization and its scope and impact. The author discusses different mechanisms and tools for implementation and concludes with various recommendations to the international community, the national states as well as health organizations, transplant professionals, social scientists, civil society and human-rights activists.

6So whether we are discussing economic inequality, gender differences or a basic human-rights approach, it is clear that the bigger picture of commodification is, indeed, complex.


Pediatrician, head of the Nutrition and Metabolism Unit at the University Children’s Hospital Queen Fabiola, Brussels, Belgium. Since 2006, he has been in charge of the Newborn Screening Laboratory at the Université libre de Bruxelles. He has a long-lasting experience of nutritional problems in developing countries (Central Africa and South-East Asia). Since 2013, he has been permanent secretary of the Royal Academy for Overseas Sciences (Brussels).

© Éditions de la Maison des sciences de l’homme, 2015

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