• Jake

Sell your Organs, Save a Life

Updated: Feb 18

The Theory:

  • A shortage occurs when a product has its price capped below the point of market equilibrium.

  • A black market will emerge in situations where sale of a desired product is forbidden.

  • In cases where a product can be legally given but not sold, the vast majority of transfers will be between family and close friends only.

The Problem:

There is a soberingly large shortage of kidneys, liver lobes, bone marrow and other organs or parts thereof. The cause is state and federal law prohibiting sale of organs. Predictably, black markets have emerged to meet demand and any legitimate transfers are almost exclusively between family and friends.

The cost of life for the kidney sale prohibition alone amounts to 4,500 people per year in the US. This is 1.5 times greater than the lives lost on 9/11. This is 13 times higher than average casualties per year in the war in Iraq. The monetary cost in the US is 60 billion per year. If this cost was a state it would have the 43rd largest economy beating out states like Alaska, Maine and Vermont for GDP.

The average wait time for a kidney is 5 years for those lucky enough to receive one. If you get one, there is a 50% chance it will be from a deceased donor making it much inferior in operation and at risk of complete failure.

Despite organs on waiting lists being, “free” it is the wealthy that will disproportionately receive them. Their network of friends and family have a greater likelihood of being healthy enough to donate. Furthermore, people in this network are more likely to have the financial ability to take time off off work and pay the peripheral costs associated with donating an organ.

The Bill:

Hospitals are permitted to act as intermediaries in the buying and selling of any human organs for the purpose of transplantation unless the sale will mean death or substantial harm to the donor. Medicare and Medicaid patients may choose to receive a live organ in place of dialysis or other alternative interventions for the purpose of transplantation.

The Result:

  • The market will match the supply of kidneys to the demand. No more waiting.

  • Virginia will save lives world wide while injecting tens, possibly hundreds of billions of dollars into the state economy each year due to its unique status as the only legal place in the free-world to purchase an organ.

  • People don’t have to watch their loved ones slowly die.

  • Massive savings in Medicare and Medicaid.

  • Thousands of donors will be better off financially and will have saved a life.

The Bottom Line:

Each day that this prohibition stands 12 people die on the kidney waiting list and many more on similar lists for other organs. If this market system makes you feel uneasy or offends your unique sense of morality you should choose not to participate in the new market. What you shouldn’t be able to choose is certain death, or bankruptcy, and misery for thousands of people and their loved ones by letting current law be in force. In the same way that a state can legalize the sale of marijuana while it is still federally prohibited, Virginia has the power to make this type of exchange legal within the state and begin saving lives world wide.

FAQ’s and Objections:

Response 1:

Doesn’t paying people money to donate pervert the donation in some way?

Answer: People have a right to use their body to save other people’s lives. This is not prohibited when someone joins the police or military to protect people, instead it is applauded and for good reason. The fact that these people take on risk to themselves and are paid compensation in no way diminishes from the work they do. It would be foolish to no longer pay police or military to protect us, no one would be able to afford to be a cop or a soldier despite their intentions. Likewise paying donors to take risks to themselves and bear hardships to save others does not diminish their actions.

Answer: The donation is a kidney. The kidney doesn’t know it was bought, given, or dropped from the sky. It filters blood and saves people from certain death. How again is the kidney perverted through sale?

Answer: In one hand put this nebulous feeling your question poses. In the other, put someone's life. If the human life doesn't outweigh your feelings then please use at least one of those hands to slap some sense into yourself.

Response 2:

The person who needs the kidney could be extorted for untold sums of money by the person who has the kidney. It should remain illegal to have a market which is essentially purchasing human life.

Answer: Maybe that could be true if only one person had the kidney that you need. However, there are 325 million people in the nation. Almost all of them have two working kidneys and only they need one. There is not one monopoly supplier as in this scenario, there are billions in the world, hundreds of millions in the nation and tens of millions in the state.

Answer: Drinking water is necessary for life. Instead of having 5 years to live, you only have about 3 days without water. Does this mean that Walmart can extort people for all their money to get a gallon of bottled water? Of course not, there are multiple suppliers and the one with the best blends of quality and price get the business.

Answer: Products necessary for human life must be provided by the market. Imagine it became illegal to sell food because it is necessary for human life. Farmers would have no resources sent to them for farming and no economic incentive to produce food. They would only be able to make food for their own survival and maybe that of their friends and family. Black markets would emerge, lots of people would die, and the whole idea that human life is valued more in such a system is shown to be laughable. Sound like the Organ market? You bet.

Response 3:

Ok then, with so many the suppliers, the suppliers would be taken advantage of. Poor people would have their kidneys ripped from them for pennies on the dollar.

Answer: In any transaction where both parties with full knowledge of the costs and benefits agree to exchange a product for money, both parties benefit and value is created. This argument is predicated on the idea that poor people are stupid.

Answer: In the current scenario that same poor person could donate an organ for no money. In fact they are encouraged to donate, it would be incredibly generous and selfless of them to do so. In the market scenario they get this moral benefit plus a financial one. If they are poor then the marginal utility of a dollar is much greater to them than a person of greater means, they are receiving substantial value otherwise they would not seek to make the exchange.

Answer: With Kidneys for example there is no difference in life span or health of a donor. How are they taken advantage of?

Answer: There are at least 4,500 potential buyers, this is actually a pretty thick market.

Response 4:

This would cause current donors to instead charge for their organs.

Answer: Really? Most all donors are family or friends of the recipient. Would you charge you mom, brother, best friend, son or cousin for an organ that would save their lives? That would make for an awkward thanksgiving dinner…

Response 5:

Poor people couldn’t afford an organ.

Answer: Polls indicate that a reward of only $10,000 per donor would be enough to raise the supply of donors to meet demand and eliminate the waiting list. My estimates indicate the number is closer to $33,000. Nevertheless, this is far below the cost of even a single year of dialysis at $89,000 per year. Remember, the average wait time is 5 years so without factoring in medical cost inflation or financing costs this is $445,000. When adding in costs like lost wages, disability, cost of government welfare programs for low income earners and accompanying costs that could include home healthcare or transportation, the final number is within spitting distance of a million dollars per person. If the poor can’t pay for an organ, the state could afford to subsidize this many times over just with the money saved in welfare or gained in additional tax revenue.

Response 6:

But what about the good people in dialysis clinics that would be out of work? What about the other medical staff that would be unemployed when they are no longer needed? This is one of the biggest employers in my district!

Answer: Fun fact: Human life is more important then both jobs in your district and your political popularity.

Answer: Sure, these particular jobs would be lost. However, displaced labor is the measure of efficiency. When the agricultural revolution happened farmers lost jobs. When the printing press was developed, well paid scribe jobs where lost. In such cases the standard of living of the whole rise and with newly freed up labor new jobs become available. In this case, it is extremely obvious that this will occur. Being the only place in the free world where organs can be legally purchased and safely transplanted, there would be a massive demand for medical staff to perform the job.

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