The Organ Shortage

Zoe Pollock, posting on Andrew Sullivan’s blog, links to a paper that notes the shortage of organs for transplant: 114,000 recipients on waiting lists, 14,000 donors per year.

The two most promising alternatives are xenotransplantation, the replacement of a human organ with an animal one, or engineering human organs from scratch.

Actually, no. As Sally Satel keeps pointing out, the most promising alternative is allowing financial rewards for organ donors. That’s especially relevant to kidneys, where the donor can go on to live a perfectly normal life and where the savings to the government from not needing to do dialysis are in the tens of thousands of dollars per patient per year. That would allow for hefty payments while leaving the program still a net cost-saver.

The bioethical dogma that forbids payment for donation is just another version of “Right-to-Life” absolutism: it caters to the scruples of those sitting comfortably in their offices, with no skin in the game, at real cost to the lives of actual people. (Just imagine if each opponent of payment had to explain, in person, to five potential recipients and their families that he, personally, made the decision to let the patient die, in order to prevent “commodification” and preserve the moral freedom of donors to make altruistic choices.)

Time to get past it.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-based Community]

Mark Kleiman

Mark Kleiman is a professor of public policy at the New York University Marron Institute.