Page URL: https://www.progress.org.uk/ncobbodies11

This policy document is part of a response submitted by the Progress Educational Trust (PET) to the Nuffield Council on Bioethics' Consultation on Human Bodies in Medicine and Research.


Do you think that it is in any way better, morally speaking, to provide human bodily material or volunteer for a first-in-human trial for free, rather than for some form of compensation? Does the type or purpose of bodily material or medicine being tested make a difference?

Altruism is an admirable quality. It is self-evidently more altruistic to donate human bodily material without any expectation of compensation than it is to donate human bodily material with an expectation of compensation. So in one sense, the answer to this question is a clear 'yes'.

However, other considerations are also relevant here. The possibility of compensation may encourage sufficient numbers of additional donors to result in a net maximisation of health and welfare. And the maximisation of health and welfare is as important a moral consideration as altruism.

The problem with the way this question is formulated, and the reason it is difficult to provide a straightforward answer, is that the question invites us to either accept or reject the counterposition of altruism to the pursuit of self-interest. Perhaps a more useful distinction is that between vulgar self-interest and enlightened self-interest.

Vulgar self-interest implies a tangible benefit (such as financial remuneration) accruing to the individual concerned. Enlightened self-interest, on the other hand, can involve benefits that are either tangible or intangible (a feeling of altruism being an example of the latter). And enlightened self-interest can involve benefits that accrue either to the individual, to the society they form a part of, or indeed to humanity as a whole.

So the ultimate moral good involved in the donation of human bodily material derives from the pursuit of enlightened self-interest. And the pursuit of enlightened self-interest may or may not involve an expectation of compensation.