Pressuring Poor People to Sell Their Organs: Economists Push “Cash for Kidneys”

Bioethics   |   Wesley J. Smith   |   Jan 19, 2014   |   11:23AM   |   Washington, DC

In the spirit of the times, let’s call it organ inequality. If organs are for sale, the rich will buy and the poor will sell. Supply and demand.

The Wall Street Journal has an advocacy piece by two economists urging that people be able to sell their kidneys. I don’t want to run long, so let me cut to the hub. From, “Cash for Kidneys,” by Nobel Prize winning economist Gary S. Becker and Argentine professor Julio J. Elias:

Our conclusion is that a very large number of both live and cadaver kidney donations would be available by paying about $15,000 for each kidney. That estimate isn’t exact, and the true cost could be as high as $25,000 or as low as $5,000—but even the high estimate wouldn’t increase the total cost of kidney transplants by a large percentage.

organharvesting2Would Becker and Elias sell their organs for $15,000? Hell no! The well off aren’t about to put themselves through the rigors and potential health consequences for such a relative pittance. That’s for desperate people, easily exploitable.​

And heck, if we induced enough poor people to sell their body parts–and include the destitute in developing worlds–why just think how low we could get that price to be!.And if a few are hurt, well, they signed the contracts, they knew the risks.

It galls me that these kinds of articles advocate surrendering–rather than standing against–an ongoing collapse of principle in this field.

Though the poor would be more likely to sell their kidneys and other organs, they also suffer more than others from the current scarcity. Today, the rich often don’t wait as long as others for organs since some of them go to countries such as India, where they can arrange for transplants in the underground medical sector, and others (such as the late Steve Jobs ) manage to jump the queue by having residence in several states or other means. The sale of organs would make them more available to the poor, and Medicaid could help pay for the added cost of transplant surgery.

Gaming the system like Jobs did needs to be stopped. But we should not add another wrong on those already being caused. We shouldn’t claim that exploiting some of the less well off might save others from further delays caused by queue jumping.

Our fear of suffering does not justify slouching toward the creation of a market in human organs. Indeed, our real focus should be on the immorality of the buyers and the medical professionals who make it possible.

Going overseas to buy an organ should be just as illegal as going overseas to sexually exploit a trafficked child.  The buyers should be named and shamed. Laws should be passed requiring doctors to report them to the authorities when they come in for treatment in the transplant’s aftermath.

Read my great pal Dean Koontz’s novel, Your Heart Belongs to Me, for a very good fictional account of the issues at stake. I have written more extensively here.

One of the reasons I don’t like libertar​ian thinking is that everything isn’t a market! Note: Wesley J. Smith, J.D., is a special consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture and a bioethics attorney who blogs at Human Exeptionalism.