The Underground Organ Market

A documentary on it premiered Monday night on HBO:

Jennifer Block reviews it:

[Director Ric Esther] Bienstock has screened the film in several cities and began informally polling the audiences. She says about 75 percent consistently say they would consider buying a kidney overseas or selling a kidney. A recent NBC poll had similar results. At a 2007 meeting of the American Society of Transplant Surgeons, after Matas and a colleague each presented opposing arguments, a majority of the audience said they would support a trial of an open organ market.

One logical compromise would be for governments to reimburse altruistic donors for lost wages, child support, and short-term life insurance. That doesn’t exist in the U.S. or Canada, though Australia recently instituted a system in which compensation goes directly to a donor’s employer, who keeps sending paychecks through recovery. “That’s removal of disincentives, and I have no problem with that,” [Gabriel] Danovitch [medical director at UCLA’s Kidney and Pancreas Transplant Program] says. “Even the current law permits payment of all these things, but it just doesn’t happen.”

Ilya Somin wants to let people sell their organs:

If we must ban kidney markets because allowing poor people to take the risk of living with only one kidney is “exploitive,” why should we not also ban poor people from taking dangerous jobs as loggers, coal miners, police officers, firefighters, and NFL players? These and other occupations involve far greater health risks than donating a kidney. And they are often especially attractive to “the desperate poor,” precisely because poor people are more likely to be willing to take risks in order to increase their wealth than the relatively affluent. Furthermore, if “exploitation” of the poor is really the reason for banning organ sales, why not ban such sales by people below a certain income threshold, but permit them if the sellers are middle class or above? This could still save many lives, among the thousands people who die because they cannot get kidney transplants in time.

Earlier Dish on the ethics of selling kidneys here, here, here, here, and here.