On his blog, David Switzer, an economics professor at SCSU, brings up the interesting topic of the sale of organs.
People who oppose the sale of organs are wary of the capitalist and market structure through which this would be done. For some, the thought of a market for organs is unsettling, because, after all, these are body parts we’re selling. They do not wish to view ourselves as “bag of cash,” and so people should not be rewarded for giving organs. Others worry about illegal transactions, or the exploitation of the poor that might take place (because they are in the most need of money).
But let me ask which is worse, the fact that in 2000, 35,000 people could not receive the kidney transplants they needed and that there’s an average of a four year waiting time (just to meet the necessary supply) or that the organ transplant market would be susceptible to the (supposedly) free markets?
Organ donations are only permitted under altruism, but the sad reality is that it does not come close to meeting the demand for those donations. In fact, demand is growing faster than supply–so don’t expect this problem to be solved any time soon. At least, not under the current method.
Allowing for the sale and purchase of organs, however, would allow us to meet the demand. An open market would also reduce the black market, which does exist but only as a poor-quality substitute that endangers the lives of those involved.
In 1971, Richard Titmuss wrote an influential book titled The Gift Relationship: From Human Blood to Social Policy. In it, he argued that blood should not be able to be sold for transfusion. Never mind the fact that America was getting more blood, where its purchase was legal, than Britain where it wasn’t–he focused on the quality. However, new technological improvements have improved screening. Not only does the legalized purchase of blood yield more blood, but also safe blood. The same would be true of organs.
There is a way to stop this needless death. Would you rather this market cost people their lives or cost them their dollars?
Some disagree, though, because they feel the poor will be exploited for the benefit of the rich who can purchase their organs. But why would the poor be better off by not allowing them to sell their organs? How does that benefit the poor? Gary Becker, a Nobel Prize winning economist asks, “If so desired, a quota could be placed on the fraction of organs that could be supplied by persons with incomes below a certain level, but would that improve the welfare of poor persons?” Is it implied that poor people cannot make rational decisions, and they must be protected from themselves? Why should poor people not have the free right to reason and the right to their own body?
David Holcberg argues, “The right to buy an organ is part of your right to life.” I agree.
Another argument against the sale of organs is that it is unsafe. The poor will be exploited, and this will damage their health, they argue. Consider, though, in 1954 Joseph Murray completed the first kidney allograft, or organ transplant from two non-identical people, and won the Nobel Prize in medicine for it. The donor in that transplant is still alive. Kidney transplants are safe. A 1997 study in the Transplantation journal found that live kidney donors not only retain full renal function but actually do not see any reduction in life expectancy (and, in fact, usually live longer than most people). There’s no basis to say these people are impaired. And even if you disagree with the established medical community, why should people (or their families) be refused compensation for post-death donation? There is, in fact, zero risk for them. (But who are we to legislate risk? We allow skydiving, stunt driving, test piloting, etc. Kidney transplantation, on the other hand, is safe.)
There is nothing good about unnecessary death. Some detractors argue that there is plenty of unnecessary death in the world, so why do we have to be so obsessed with this particular one? The answer is that these are very easily stopped deaths. In a 2007 paper, Gary Becker and Julio Elías find that, as with blood or sperm, monetary incentives for organ transplants “would increase the supply of organs for transplant sufficiently to eliminate the very large queues in organ markets, and the suffering and deaths of many of those waiting …” So, ask yourselves, why is this currently not legalized?