In Praise of Human Organ Sales
Nobel Prize-winning economist Gary S. Becker has long used economic principles to challenge social preconceptions. In 2004, he teamed up with the jurist and legal scholar Richard A. Posner to jointly write a blog. Together, they have spoken out on a wide range of issues including sex and marriage, jobs and the workplace, the environment and disasters, crime and punishment. The blog's commentaries will be published next month by University of Chicago Press in "Uncommon Sense: Economic Insights from Marriage to Terrorism." We asked Becker to write for us on one of his controversial ideas: human organ sales.
GUEST BLOGGER: Gary S. Becker
The average wait for a kidney transplant in the United States is more than four years. The wait for a liver is about two years. Every year, thousands of people die while waiting for such transplants, and while a shorter wait wouldn't save all those lives, it would unquestionably save many.
If the altruism that underpins our current system of organ donation were sufficiently powerful, the supply of organs would be large enough to satisfy demand, and there would be no need for change.
But this is not the case in any country that does a significant number of transplants. While the per capita number of organs donated has grown over time, demand has grown even faster.
In recent years the United States has taken several steps to improve the allocation of available organs among those needing them, such as giving greater priority to those who could benefit the most. But the queue continues to grow nonetheless.
To an economist, it is clear that the major reason for the imbalance between demand and supply of organs is that the United States and practically all other countries forbid the purchase and sale of organs.
If laws were changed to allow the buying and selling of organs, the promise of financial gain would increase the pool of available organs. In a free market, the prices of organs for transplants would settle at the levels that would eliminate the excess demand for each type of organ.
Some critics simply dismiss organ markets as immoral "commodification" of body parts. More thoughtful critics argue that allowing organs to be bought and sold might actually reduce the total number of organs available for transplants because it would cause the number of organs being donated for altruistic reasons to shrink dramatically. That scenario, however, is extremely unlikely since presently only a small fraction of potentially useable organs are available for transplants.
Another set of critics fears that the organ supply would be likely to come mainly from the poor, who would be induced to sell their organs to the rich. It is hard to see any reasons to complain if organs of poor persons were sold with their permission after they died, and the proceeds went as bequests to their parents or children. The complaints would be louder if, for example, mainly poor persons sold one of their kidneys for live kidney transplants, but why would poor donors be better off if this option were taken away from them?
My conclusion is that markets in organs are the best available way to enable persons with defective organs to get transplants much more quickly than under the present system. I do not find compelling the arguments against allowing the sale of organs, especially when weighed against the number of lives that would be saved by the increased supply stimulated by financial incentives.
Please email us to report offensive comments.
Posted by: doughty | October 22, 2009 8:37 AM
Posted by: Peg__Jo | October 22, 2009 9:55 AM
Posted by: gdmurray1861 | October 22, 2009 10:06 AM
Posted by: daveundis | October 22, 2009 1:00 PM
Posted by: vp1123 | October 22, 2009 4:20 PM
Posted by: SueLange | October 23, 2009 10:13 AM
The comments to this entry are closed.