Sunday, December 12, 2010

NY Times article: "Organ Donation: Let the Market Rule?"

Ariel Kaminer: Organ Donation, Let the Market Rule?" NYT, Dec. 11, 2010

Among the several points to ponder in this article is this:
Gary Becker, the Nobel laureate who teaches economics at the University of Chicago, has proposed something even more radical: paying people to part with their organs now, while they are still using them. You’ve got two kidneys but you can get by with one. You’ve got only one liver but you don’t really need that meaty chunk at the end. How does $30,000 sound?
In an interview, he said the idea should not be that shocking. As long as exchanges were carefully regulated, no one would be forced into it. It would solve an otherwise intractable problem. And unlike the current system, in which friends and relatives are often guilted into becoming donors, a market-based approach would compensate families fairly for their discomfort and risk.
This is odd for a few of reasons.  The first is that Becker's suggestion goes totally against the WHO Guiding Principles, and no mention is made in the article that there is such a thing.    The second is the claim that friends and relatives "are often guilted [sic] into becoming donors."  Where's the evidence for that????

And then there's a third problem: Becker thinks that it is possible that such a system could be "carefully regulated" and that "no one would be forced into" selling their kidney or chunk of liver.  Wow.  If he's worried about people being "guilted" in donating now, why shouldn't he worry about people be "guilted" into selling their organs?  How could a regulatory system possibly prevent a person whose family needs money from selling an organ out of a sense of guilt rather than (as Becker might have it) as homo economicus rationally making a profit by alienating a piece of his body-property.

There are other things in this article, too, including a pilot program in which
an organ-recovery team will trail ambulances responding to 911 calls, ready to leap in if the patient dies and is a viable donor.
 Gives "ambulance chaser" an entirely new meaning.



  1. There was an interesting proposal a couple of years ago about creating a "daisy chain" for organ donation. It was an interesting way to think beyond the commodification/gift dichotomy that ends up being re-run in all arguments.

  2. See also

    I'm not sure that we completely move away from the commodification/gift dichotomy with the daisy chain method because the process still begins with an altruistic donor who makes a gift. What the daisy chain moves away from is the one-on-one exchange.

  3. Thanks for this link. I suppose one could say it, hhmm, changes the perspective a bit, and I have read that it could help meet the need for organs because it gets rid of the need for simultaneous surgeries.