Thief of Hearts

The premise of this movie seems to be a cross between Logan’s Run and the original Repo Man. The idea, I gather from the trailer, is that in the near future, patients in need of an organ transplant can purchase artificial organs on an installment plan – but if they don’t keep up their payments, then their organs can be bloodily “repossessed.” The protagonist, Jude Law, is an organ repo man who has no misgivings about his job – until, after a job gone wrong, he wakes up with an organ transplant he can’t afford and ends up on the run, pursued by his former partner, Forest Whitaker.

I thought I’d weigh in early on what I take to be the libertarian perspective on this. Some libertarians may say that these organ repo men are simply enforcing contracts, and so are behaving legitimately. But on my view (elaborated here, here, here, and here; cf. also Rothbard and Barnett), contracts involve the conditional transfer of alienable rights, while rights over bodily parts (whether made of meat or not) are inalienable so long as they’re within the body. (Moreover, there are limits on what one can do in recovering alienable property too.) So my verdict is that what the organ repo men are doing is not libertarianly legitimate.

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9 Responses to Thief of Hearts

  1. Anon73 December 24, 2009 at 7:52 pm #

    I think Tremblay is right – stuff like this logically flows from the idea of property as being possessive or exclusive control. The fact that you have to jump through all these hoops about Shylock and Portia and proportionality to prove otherwise shows this I think.

    But even if you’re correct, the fact is most people’s conception of property agrees with the premise of this movie, and I’m not really sure what could be done to change it.

    • Roderick December 24, 2009 at 8:28 pm #

      But just about every important concept is complex once you start spelling out its logical grammar; I take that to be one of the morals of the Socratic dialogues. So what you call “hoops” I’d just call philosophic business as usual — so to me your objection sounds like objecting to something because it’s made of atoms. It’s not as though there’s any alternative that’s hoopless. This is just how concepts work.

      most people’s conception of property agrees with the premise of this movie

      Do you mean their surface conception or their deep conception? (I’ll disagree either way, but the reasons will be different.)

      • Anon73 December 24, 2009 at 9:23 pm #

        Concepts are a bit like taffy – you can stretch them a lot, but eventually it breaks. I’ve seen you try to argue that Theism and Atheism are compatible – so forgive me for being a bit skeptical of attempts to show property is compatible with its absence. Historically the essence has always been about exclusive control, not proportionality, about monopoly and not the alternative. I disagree with it, but that is how the concept was formed and that is what people’s conception (deep conception?) of it is to the present day.

        • Roderick December 26, 2009 at 2:25 am #

          And yet the amount of government interference with their property that people accept as legitimate, while still continuing to think of themselves as owning it, suggests that their surface conception of property is not only too strict but also too lax. Which suggests that they haven’t really thought very clearly about it at all.

  2. Chris December 25, 2009 at 1:39 pm #

    The trailer I saw seemed to suggest that the repo men are actually VIOLATING contracts, even if you consider body parts alienable. Jude law says something to the effect of, “they’ll give you a liver, but what they don’t tell you is…” Since a contract is not made of words on paper, but AGREEMENT, repossessing the organs would clearly be a violation of the contract, whatever the fine print says. Now, the premise could easily be changed, and then we’d be in a different boat.

    • Anon73 December 25, 2009 at 3:18 pm #

      The court would just say it was implied that you were agreeing to give up the loaned item if you fall behind on payment for it. At least, as far as I know many people in the current mortgage crisis have been evicted for not repaying; the premise of the movie is just taking this to a more extreme conclusion.

      Here’s a fascinating read for the topic:

  3. P.M.Lawrence December 26, 2009 at 6:05 am #

    On the information before me, it doesn’t sound as though the liver in question was the subject of even a contract on implied terms that allowed for repossession like that.

  4. b-psycho December 26, 2009 at 3:10 pm #

    Meh, furthest I would’ve thought about it is “well NO SHIT you can’t justifiably repo an internal organ!”…

    Even agreeing to such a contract amounts to putting a hit on yourself. I’d rather just die without it than be murdered over a bill.


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