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Your Take: Legalize Organ Trafficking?

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Operation GameThere’s been a lot of buzz in the news lately on the issue of organ trafficking. While this CNN story wasn’t the first time I heard Nick Rosen’s story of selling a kidney for $20,000, it is certainly a sign that the discussion of selling organs is coming back into the spotlight.

The story of Rosen probably isn’t all that different from other people who have sold organs. They saw an ad, answered it, duped the hospital doing the transplant, and got paid. The difference was that he then bragged about it in a “documentary” about how easy it was to do (I say brag because the video supposedly has him lying on a bed covered in cash).

What do you think about organ trafficking? I’m against the idea. I believe someone should be able to sell an organ if they want to but I think that making organ trafficking legal opens up a whole host of legal, economic, and moral issues we can’t answer.

For example, if the market price of an organ is $20,000 then anyone who can’t possibly pay that amount would simply die. Any “rational” person, in the economic sense, who would freely donate a kidney to a stranger would now demand $20,000 because that’s the market price of a kidney. What if the person is mentally unstable? What if they aren’t considered emotionally fit enough to make the decision?

It just seems like once you put a price on something like that, you introduce a lot more headaches than you’re probably prepared to deal with.

What do you think?

(PHoto: myklroventine)

{ 60 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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60 Responses to “Your Take: Legalize Organ Trafficking?”

  1. Living Donor Lora says:

    I was a living kidney donor and my husband received a kidney/pancreas from a deceased donor. I am against financial incentives for donation, but OK with reimbursing donors for their expenses. . . lost wages, travel, etc.

    Those in favor of compensating fail to realize that most living donors feel rewarded by the act itself. I have a google alert for living donation and read stories every day. Donors do receive valuable rewards, but they can’t be measured in dollars.

    Transplantation is a treatment for kidney disease; not a lifetime cure. Many transplant recipients need repeat transplants because the immunosuppresant meds are hard on kidneys.

    The issues are varied and complex. I think we need more education on what’s involved with living kidney donation so that more people will step up and volunteer. Certainly everyone on the list has a circle of friends, neighbors, coworkers, etc. With paired exchange networks, compatibility issues are easier to resolve.

    If you know of someone who is waiting and care enough to blog about this, then offer yourself as a donor. You will be surprised at the good that comes your way!

  2. liz says:

    Prostitution is illegal. There are instances when people are not allowed to sell absolutely any part of themselves.

    In any case, we don’t have any data to tell us how many people would donate. You say that the removing the ban would create a price much lower than $20,000 – how much lower?

    Although the idea of government subsidies sounds promising, I just don’t like the idea of poor people literally selling their bodies because they have no other options.

    • Andrew says:

      1. Prostitution isn’t illegal everywhere.
      2. Prostitution != selling part of oneself. At most it involves renting out parts of oneself for temporary use.
      3. Laws forbidding prostitution between consenting adults are unjust and should be repealed. Laws banning underage prostitution, human trafficking, and pimps should remain in place and in fact be more vigorously enforced.

      • Wizard Prang says:

        Well said.

        There is a reason why it is referred to as “the world’s oldest profession”. And many of the attendant problems (pimps, crime, disease) are exacerbated by making it illegal.

  3. poscogrubb says:

    Hmmm. My knee-jerk reaction is No, not a good idea to form a marketplace for organs (wording that is a little more neutral than your post title of organ trafficking).

    But I really wanted to say: That photo brings back many good memories! I loved the game of Operation… the buzzing red nose was a terror of childhood.

  4. Glenn Lasher says:

    Well . . .

    For the most part, I don’t have a problem with it in principle. The problem arises when you start getting organ farming, with slave and near-slave populations being harvested for organs. I think this is the nightmare scenario for which this prohibition exists.

    On another note, I’d be curious to hear from those advocating a free-market medical system on this. This is, after all, a question of whether or not to allow a free market, isn’t it?

  5. In THEORY I’m in favor of this, because it can save lives and earn people some badly needed income. But, yeah, abuse wouldn’t be far behind and it isn’t inconceivable that people would start doing some desperate and unethical things to make money. It isn’t hard to imagine butcher shops opening, taking peoples organs in less than safe environments, then maybe welshing on payment.

    Has anyone seen the ads on Craigslist soliciting for human eggs and birth mothers? Seems like an extension of organ donating. I’m stunnned at how common and casual it’s becoming.

  6. Ron says:

    Anybody watched ‘The Island’?
    The whole thing could end up much like that, a corporation systematically ‘making people’ just for the spare parts.
    From a business point of view, yeah it is great.
    Moral point of view is another story.

  7. Wizard Prang says:

    One day, perhaps we will be able to clone replacement organs without having to take or threaten another human life in the process.

    Then this problem will quietly go away, and everyone will be happy… except for Big Pharma, as there will be no need for anti-rejection drugs. 🙂

  8. Interesting discussion.

    There are certainly moral implications to both sides. Of course, there’s the moral issue about whether someone *should* pay for a kidney transplant, but there’s a compelling other side.

    The fact remains that there is a huge shortage of organs (kidneys for example). The number I heard was that the waitlist is currently 80,000 for kidney transplants. And, the long wait is killing people who could live long and fulfilling lives after the transplant.

    For me, a market for organs makes sense, but I understand that we like to have a sense of fairness… but when you think of the people who die from waiting too long on the waitlist, what’s fair?

    FYI: I accepted this article to the Carnival of Economic Fun. Thanks for submitting.

  9. Rhonda Fleming says:

    I was in Raleigh NC October 5, 2009 for the sentencing of Philip Guyett, who ran Donor Referral Services in Raleigh NC, was caught in 2006 for his 3rd time in selling bodies, was charged only with mail fraud, and my family and many others are irate this monster was not thrown under the prison, as we suspect he bought my brother’s body, and the FDA, and the DOJ REFUSE to help us! I have been blogging about this for seceral years. This is not isolated, but pandemic!

  10. Helen M. says:

    I’ve practiced law for a long time before my transplant and I know that the federal courts, generally, have jurisdiction over criminal cases that either occur on federal land, violate federal law, or cross state lines. Unfortunately, desecrating a cadaver (for lack of a better term) falls under state law. Perhaps the state will try Guyett after the feds are done with him. Perhaps you’ll find peace in the fact that there is no parole in the federal prisons, so he’ll have to serve the entire 96 months. Also, if your brother was a donor (however unwiling), there should be peace in knowing that lives were improved by him, maybe someone can see their kids again.

  11. Dan says:

    To idiots who think this would cause kidnapping: Criminals don’t obey the law to begin with. They simply kidnap people and sell their organs on the black market for massive profits because of the risk of gathering the organs, as well as their scarcity- same reason drugs are so expensive. A market for organs would decrease incentive to kidnap because the greatly increased supply of available organs would lower their price. Even if we did see an increase in said kidnappings, (which we wouldn’t) that’d far underweigh the harm of the current ~17+ people who die everyday waiting for organs.

  12. Pam says:

    Yes, buying and selling organs should be legal. This would not only broaden the pool of available organs but would provide even more incentive for the development of artificial organs and related areas.
    And, of course, a charitable/free system would still exist. Charitable giving exists across our society for all kinds of goods and services.
    There are already laws against theft, coercion, kidnapping, etc. that apply to unsavory practices for this or any other area.
    Either you want to live in an adult society or you don’t. I do, do you?

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