Organ Donor Legislation

According to a January 28, 2007 article in the New York Times, titled "Grim Harvest" (see http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C0DE1D71130F93BA15752C0A9619C8B63) 94,000 people are essentially waiting for someone else to die so that they might live. Organ Donor Economics was the title of an article in Business Week last month that covered the growing debate over the compensation for organ donation. For many years, families that donated cadavers to medical schools received compensation from the schools. Legislation has been introduced to compensate the families of organ donors. The National Kidney foundation is one group that is in severe opposition to selling 'surplus' body parts. Medical Schools in the United States have a surplus of bodies and yet economically it makes more sense for the families to donate 'used' body parts to a medical school where they receive some compensation rather than donate the organs to a name on a waiting list and receive no compensation. Economically we know that the low price (in this case compensation) is causing a major shortage of supply. An economic sociologist, Kieran Healy, adds to the debate over organ procurement indicating one method to succeed would be to have healthy adults make a binding contract to be organ donors when, "with life insurance paid for by transplant centers, the government or a private foundation going to their heirs." I believe that compensation for organ donors would not cause the average Joe to go out and sell his body parts, rather it would encourage surviving family members to give the 'gift of life' and help organ recipients live longer with an increased chance of a fuller life. Approving the legislation would be the 'invisible hand' that guides free market and would allow the quantity supplied to shift until it meets the quantity demanded.


isabelle said...

I say put a price on your kidney. Whatever you want for it, if someone is willing to pay for it, go ahead and sell it. I think it is rediculous that people are so upset about the idea of selling organs. People sell dogs, cats, sperm and many other close personal items of theirs, why can't they sell a little more ? People buy new faces and other body parts, so why not allow them to buy any part they want if it can prevent them from dying? There are too many rules coming into our lives from the government. We need to stop worrying about the stupid little details and worry about more important things like: providing a better education for our kids and/or bringing home the soldiers who are fighting the endless battle in Iraq.

Jacob said...

I think it is perfectly ethical and justifiable to place a price on a body part. It would be nice if people would be willing to donate organs at no cost when they die, but if they want money to go their surviving relatives, I think that is perfectly fine. I think it is okay if the, 'gift of life,' has a price tag attached to it. Hospitals charge an, 'arm and a leg,' for orgran transplants. (No pun intended.)Why shouldn't the donaters be allowed to also charge a premium for their body parts?

Aaliyah said...

The problem with placing a price tag on organ donations, stems from the difference in health care already available to the rich that the poor cannot afford. When we place a price on organs, we are saying that life can only be given to those who have the money to pay for it- giving no thought to the overall value of each individual's life. Prices will also undoubtedly sky-rocket as people will shop for the perfect donor. However, there should be some compensation in order to stimulate donations, but maybe it should be a tax break on an estate settlement or a fixed amount for compensation. Maybe the government should allow a price, but set a cap. What ever the choice, we should be careful about giving our consent to people selling their organs for the financial gain of themselves or their family.

Jackson said...

There is absolutely no problem with offering reasonable compensation for donor body parts. I agree with much of what has already been said. However, there needs to be some safeguards in place to prevent the "sale" of body parts. The focused needs to remain on the lives of the individuals effected and the purpose at hand. It would be a shame to see the donation of organs enter corporate America or even worse...the black market.

Dr. Tufte said...

-1 on Isabelle for spelling errors.

I'm surprised that that ban on selling body parts is a price ceiling. Since a price ceiling is equivalent to a tax on low-cost sellers with a transfer to high-value buyers. In what worldview does it make sense to tax/punish the people who are most willing to give up something they need?

Aaliyah's argument is not solid. No one is talking about how to pay the price, just about whether you should be allowed to charge a price. By extension, saying that you can't sell to the highest bidder (because they might be rich) is saying that it isn't really yours to sell in the first place.

Anonymous said...


If we place a price on organs then will the total costs for having an organ transplant increase?

Dr. Tufte said...

I think that depends on what you mean by a cost.

If you restrict yourself to monetary costs, I think the answer is almost certainly yes.

However, there are other (opportunity) costs that should be considered.

Currently, when we add everything up, and without a market for organs, there are two prices that you need to ponder.

Lucky recipients pay one price. The unlucky pay a completely different one, and if they die while waiting, a much higher price.

So, what we really have here is a tax and transfer system run by lottery. If you win, you get something more cheaply, and that benefit is subsidized by those who lose.