NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


August 10, 2009

Some 102,640 patients are waiting for an organ donation in the United States and more than 7,000 people died last year while they waited.  Over 2,000 have died this year.  These deaths are entirely preventable, but the current system creates incentives for black markets, rewards only the wealthiest and punishes the poorest, says Jeff Stier, the associate director of the American Council on Science and Health.

However, underground kidney markets are nothing new, says Stier:

  • National Geographic reported on a poor neighborhood in India known as "kidney village" -- residents illegally sell their kidneys for about $800.
  • Now it is emerging that Israel also is becoming a black market hot spot; a whole new industry -- transplant tourism -- is meeting the needs of the wealthy patients, creating demand.
  • Patients now face a choice between two extremes: wait for a fundamentally broken system and risk death, or venture into the unregulated Wild West of the black market for organs.

Yet, there is a better and more ethical alternative, says Stier.  Because of the ban on incentives for donations, a familiar economic principle comes into play: whenever a product's price is held below market demand, a shortage ensues.  Despite campaigns to increase altruistic donations, organ donations are basically stagnant.

But if your life depended on getting a kidney that wasn't otherwise available, would you conduct business with a black market organ seller?  Would you do so for compensation?

Even the most tightly regulated system that creates incentives for donors would save lives, reduce the shortages that promote the black market and level the playing field by helping all potential recipients, not just those who can afford a trip to Kidney Village, says Stier.

Source: Jeff Stier, "Allow incentives for donating organs," JTA -- The Global News Service of the Jewish People, July 28, 2009.

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