Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Should People Be Allowed To Sell Their Kidneys And Other Organs?

This came up in one of my classes this week when we discussed a chapter from the book The Economics Of Public Issues. Alex Tabarrok had a good article on this in the 1-9/10-2010 edition of the WSJ, p. W1. It was called The Meat Market. Here are some interesting exerpts:
"Iran has eliminated waiting lists for kidneys entirely by paying its citizens to donate."

"Millions of people suffer from kidney disease, but in 2007 there were just 64,606 kidney-transplant operations in the entire world. In the U.S. alone, 83,000 people wait on the official kidney-transplant list. But just 16,500 people received a kidney transplant in 2008, while almost 5,000 died waiting for one."

"To combat yet another shortfall, some American doctors are routinely removing pieces of tissue from deceased patients for transplant without their, or their families', prior consent. And the practice is perfectly legal."

"The shortage of organs has increased the use of so-called expanded-criteria organs, or organs that used to be considered unsuitable for transplant. Kidneys donated from people over the age of 60 or from people who had various medical problems are more likely to fail than organs from younger, healthier donors, but they are now being used under the pressure."

"Already, the black market may account for 5% to 10% of transplants world-wide."

"Only one country, Iran, has eliminated the shortage of transplant organs—and only Iran has a working and legal payment system for organ donation." (although the payment system works mainly through the government)

"The Iranian system and the black market demonstrate one important fact: The organ shortage can be solved by paying living donors. The Iranian system began in 1988 and eliminated the shortage of kidneys by 1999. Writing in the Journal of Economic Perspectives in 2007, Nobel Laureate economist Gary Becker and Julio Elias estimated that a payment of $15,000 for living donors would alleviate the shortage of kidneys in the U.S. Payment could be made by the federal government to avoid any hint of inequality in kidney allocation. Moreover, this proposal would save the government money since even with a significant payment, transplant is cheaper than the dialysis that is now paid for by Medicare's End Stage Renal Disease program."


veronica velez said...

There seems to be positives and negatives with this. I have read that suicide bombers do such acts because their families will be taken care of financially if they follow through with their suicide. Well, it can get to the point that people will do and sell whatever they can just to help their families out. Or worse, what if people have addictions. Drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling. I understand that it would be their bodies, their decisions, but I think many people would do such things to get their fix of whatever suited them. Almost as a sense of prostitution of body parts. I do 100% believe in donation. But I do believe that a sacrifice that one gives willfully and without expecting anything in return is much more fulfilling.
I have a good friend that just donated bone marrow to a complete stranger. He took time out of his life, at home with children, to extend a loving, compassionate heart to try to save the life of someone else. I know it doesnt compare to a kidney or other organs, but still, people should do it because their is an internal desire to help.

Cyril Morong said...

Thanks for dropping by and commenting. You make a good point about drug addicts selling their organs. So there might have to be safeguards like physical exams before someone can sell a kidney.

It would be great if more people donated just to help others out. But people are dying now. I have heard about a system where if a person wants a kidney, they find a friend or relative who can't donate to them (because they are not a match) but is willing to donate to someone else. This other person then finds a friend or relative who is a match for the first person. So it is an exchange.

Dave said...

As the death toll from the organ shortage mounts, public opinion will eventually support a legal organ market in the United States. Changes in public policy will then follow.

In the mean time, there is an already-legal way to put a big dent in the organ shortage -- allocate donated organs first to people who have agreed to donate their own organs when they die. UNOS, which manages the national organ allocation system, has the power to make this simple policy change. No legislative action is required.

Americans who want to donate their organs to other registered organ donors don't have to wait for UNOS to act. They can join LifeSharers, a non-profit network of organ donors who agree to offer their organs first to other organ donors when they die. Membership is free at or by calling 1-888-ORGAN88. There is no age limit, parents can enroll their minor children, and no one is excluded due to any pre-existing medical condition.

Giving organs first to organ donors will convince more people to register as organ donors. It will also make the organ allocation system fairer. Non-donors should go to the back of the waiting list as long as there is a shortage of organs.

Anonymous said...

I dont see why in America we can't sell our organs to people in need. We legalize everything else.

Cyril Morong said...

Thanks for dropping by and commenting. I agree.