Leader: Body parts champion is out on a limb

IN THE continuing controversy over student fees and university funding there can surely be no more bizarre contribution than that from a Scots academic who suggests that students should be able to pay off their university fees by selling their kidneys.

Sue Rabbit Roff, a senior research fellow at the Department of Medical Sociology at the University of Dundee, suggests in an article in the British Medical Journal that students should be able to sell their organs to pay off university loans. Donors could be paid the average annual income of about 28,000 for one kidney. At present, it is illegal in the UK to profit from the donation of any organs or tissues. But Mrs Roff argues that establishing a legal, formal and "above board" market in this way would boost numbers of organs available and help students and other people struggling for money.

Tempting though this may be for students desperate for funds, it raises big questions of ethics and could open the door to an unedifying market in body parts of all sorts. Why stop at a kidney? What of some other body part, or limb? How much might a good eye fetch? Or a roll of body tissue? It would also open the door to pressure selling, once it became legal to price up the human body for hard cash. If the ethics are not profoundly questionable, and they are, the practical difficulties of preventing exploitation and abuse would be formidable. Mrs Roff says she is middle class and personally does not need to sell her kidneys. That perhaps tells us all we need to know about where this proposal would lead.