NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

No Longer Unthinkable: Payments For Human Organs

February 14, 2002

It has taken a major shortage of organs for transplants, but the medical community is no longer so shocked that it refuses to consider paying for them.

  • Some 79,000 Americans are awaiting transplants -- and 5,500 who are on waiting lists die each year.
  • So a committee of the American Medical Association has been designing a pilot program to test the effects of various motivators -- including payments for cadaveric organ donations.
  • The committee is already convinced that any moral concerns are outweighed by the needs of patients.
  • Meanwhile, an advisory committee at the Department of Health and Human Services is discussing ways to alleviate the organ shortage -- including lifting the ban on cadaveric and live donors.

The American Society of Transplant Surgeons has already endorsed payment for cadaveric organs to families who consent to donate them when a relative dies.

The practice would be ethical if "understood as a thank you" and "not a bribe," says Francis Delmonico, a professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School. He says sums of $300 to $3,000 have been discussed.

Observers say if the AMA endorses a program that would offer donors or their families small rewards, Congress would probably go along with it.

Source: Barbara Carton, "Doctors, U.S. Government Move Closer to Backing Payment When Organs Are Donated," Wall Street Journal, February 14, 2002.


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