General Question

oratio's avatar

Buying and Selling Organs?

Asked by oratio (8915points) May 30th, 2009

The National Organ Transplant Act (NOTA) [1], a federal law, makes it illegal to buy or sell organs for profit. You can be sentenced to five years in prison or a $50,000 fine, or both. It is also illegal under the law of most states to sell organs for profit. If you donate your organs, though, you can be reimbursed for some of the costs involved. [2]

Society has not shunned the sale of hair, sperm, blood, and other replenishable body parts, the question of whether society should venture into the commercialization of human organs remains unsettled; not so much because of a growing desire of individuals to sell their organs for transplantation, but partially because of the explosion of the biotechnology industry. Yes, a growing number of patients are waiting for an organ transplant, and alternatives to increase the donor supply are in constant demand. However, simply stated, advances in biotechnology have generated uses and needs for bodily tissues that were unfathomable until recent years. And although federal and state laws ban the buying and selling of organs for transplantation, they have not exclusively banned their use in research, education, and commercial endeavors, all of which have increased their value.[3]

One other difference than being replenishable between donating some body parts(blood, sperm and eggs) and internal organs is that they can be donated without risks for the living donor, but this is one argument that shows that we already have commercialized some parts of the body.

Many economists encourage the creation of legal framework to allow organ trade not only to eliminate the organ shortage but also to help dissolve the corrupt illegal market.

The subject of paying living organ donors appears to be one of the slipperiest of “slippery slope” issues, but a Nobel Prize-winning economist not only endorses the practice, he’s come up with some prices.

Saying that “economists are always answering unanswerable questions,” University of Chicago professor Gary Becker, PhD, calculates that private insurers or the government should pay living donors $15,000 for a kidney and $32,000 for a piece of liver.[4]

Clearly, the need of donors are far greater than the supply, and people die waiting in line for years.

■ Can this be a solution to the shortfall of organs?
Would it bring more living and/or deceased organ donors?
■ Is there an ethical downfall?
Ethical pros and cons?
■ Should some body parts be commercialized but not others? Which parts should be included/excluded? Livers, kidneys, hearts or only replenishable parts?
■ Who would then buy the organs? Strictly the government only, or should it be unregulated?
■ Should it cover only citizen to citizen transplant, or should foreign organs be included?

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16 Answers

marcosthecuban's avatar

how ‘bout ebay for organs?

RedPowerLady's avatar

Huge Downfall: It would be misused so that the “poor” are more likely to sell their organs than the “rich”.

oratio's avatar

@RedPowerLady I agree, but I didn’t want to write my opinions in the question. The way it is now though, doesn’t work well at all. People die that could easily be saved.

I think this is something that should be discussed. It might save more people, but it might also make things even worse.

RedPowerLady's avatar

@oratio Do you have any ideas on how it might work without isolating the poor communities? Perhaps just placing a higher value on living donors. My husband might have to donate a kidney and really there is so little support for us right now going through the process, just makes it all the more scarier. And while the hospitals do pay for medical expenses they don’t pay for travel to the hospital or hotel stays while getting the surgery, or to help afterwards while you are recovering and out of work. So it is more of a discouragement than an encouragement.

DarkScribe's avatar

I have donated bone marrow, and it was damned unpleasant experience, but rewarding in the long run. I had all expenses paid by the Government, travel, accommodation and post op recovery. My employer was not a problem, but had I been in a situation where that was the case, they would not be able to retaliate in any way – by law.

I still will not sign the “Donor” section of my driver’s licence as I have had first hand experience of instances where they did not “try as hard” to revive someone who was a card carrying donor and had notified a transplant team while still attempting to resuscitate a person. Recently there was some very negative publicity about a transplant team surgically preparing a donor for organ removal while the donor was still in the process of dying. Other Doctors and theatre staff believed that there was still a chance of saving the person.

alive's avatar

not to sound heartless, but what is so wrong, or bad about people dying?

i can’t say for sure that if i needed an organ transplant that i would take it. why do i deserve someone else’s organs?

(p.s. dirty pretty things is an amazing movie!)

oratio's avatar

I don’t know. It could work in a system of universal health care, where everybody had equal right to the organs. The idea is only valid if more people get saved – and not only people with money – if it can help shorten or remove the waiting list, if it can fight back the black market of body parts.

I agree. I think this could create a situation where it’s common that poor people sell their dead bodies for their families benefit, only Samaritans of the middle class would do it and very few rich.

But then again, it’s my impression that poor people today already have a problem getting transplants. If this could bring them needed help and organs it could be seen as an ethical win. The poor helping the poor. If the organs only go to people with money, it’s not. If the government was the buyer and unbiased distributor it would be regulated, and could be fair.

Commercialization of the body feels very unethical, and I am not sure if it would help more people and the right ones.

Maybe the only ethical way is to inform people of the need and the good they can do by donating their organs already in school.

But from what you tell me about your husband, it sounds outrageous. There should be a lot more support for donors.

oratio's avatar

@alive I just think that people should live out their lives if they can. There are children on that waiting list. I think they should have a chance.

oratio's avatar

@DarkScribe From what I hear, unpleasant is a kind word for it. I admire that you went through that.

It sounds horrible that there actually would be doctors out there not trying their best, in order to get to the organs. There is pause for thought, there.

I think for me, the aspect of saving others outweighs the risk of not being saved though. I am a donor.

wundayatta's avatar

You can purchase an organ now, if you really want to. You can get them in China, and possibly in other really poor nations. The places that sell them say their hospital facilities are just as good as any in the US.

Since organ selling is already here, perhaps it should be regulated? Yes, poor people will be more likely to sell parts of their organs, but is this so bad? Wouldn’t you sell an organ to get a leg up out of poverty?

We sell ourselves all the time. We sell our time to employers. We sell our energy to employers. We sacrifice all kinds of things for money; things we can never get back; things we may wish we hadn’t done when we find ourselves at death’s door. Why not organs? In fact, perhaps it’s unethical not to allow organ sales, since the people it hurts are those who would benefit most from an infusion of cash. An organ for a child’s education? Is that such a bad deal?

RedPowerLady's avatar


Yes, poor people will be more likely to sell parts of their organs, but is this so bad? Wouldn’t you sell an organ to get a leg up out of poverty?

R U Kidding Me? You don’t see the disadvantage of poor people selling their organs to get a leg up? While the non-poor can live healthy and whole and already have a leg up. Of course the class discrimination is only one factor. You also have to think about the education lower economic individuals have. With one less organ you have to take great care of yourself, some organs missing would even require special treatment. And we already know that people in the lower economic stratus don’t have equal opportunity to such education or health care opportunities. Or even equal access to healthy food stores.

In fact, perhaps it’s unethical not to allow organ sales, since the people it hurts are those who would benefit most from an infusion of cash. An organ for a child’s education?

Your equating health and life with money and education. Money and education are quite valuable but not without good health or life. Now I am not implying that by donating an organ all people will have bad health or lose their life but it is a possibility. A possibility even moreso possible for “poor” people.

Let’s be serious. There is a huge issue here if you have a group of “poor” people walking around with fewer organs just so they can afford better educational opportunities.

**This is essentially Exploitation & Marginalization**.

If this were allowed we would need to find a way to factor out socioeconomic status.

Of course, in the United States, selling your organs wouldn’t even be cost effective. You have to take into account cost of surgery (which is likely covered by receivers medical insurance), hospital and gas to the hospital, time off work while recovering from surgery, follow-up care (which is not covered by receivers med. insurance), etc…

CMaz's avatar

It can be a good idea on paper. But, we do live in such a greedy and selfish society.
Especially when it comes to living and dying.

wundayatta's avatar

@RedPowerLady Ok, so you wouldn’t sell an organ to get out of debilitating poverty, and would spend the rest of your life in horrendous poverty, and also likely, your children would spend their lives in the same situation. Other people would make a different choice.

In fact, people are willing to sacrifice their lives for members of their family, and even for strangers who are their countrymen and women! I don’t see why we should say that living in poverty means a person can’t sell a part of their body (when such sale won’t even kill them) in order to help themselves out. Especially when someone who wants an organ could hop across the Pacific and get an organ there. The Chinese execute criminals all the time, and don’t see any point in wasting the remaining tissue.

I understand that you believe you are protecting the disadvantaged, and I understand that there is a knee-jerk reaction against selling organs, but I ask you to reconsider your reasoning. Do you really want class mobility, or not? Why are some ways to move up acceptable, but others are not? Why do you make these distinctions when poverty is condemning the poor to shorter, less healthy, less self-actualized lives as it is?

In my mind, people deserve the right to help themselves, so long as they are not hurting others, in any way they can. To look down on the things that the poor are willing to do in order to help themselves is an attitude of the privileged. It is akin to the attitudes in India and Japan about their various versions of the “untouchables.” In those countries, the upper classes have a visceral disgust about the things the untouchables do to live, and don’t want to have anything to do with them, or even live anywhere close to them. It is a kind of condescension that says the poor don’t know what’s best for them. Well, do we know?

RedPowerLady's avatar

@daloon Why are some ways to move up acceptable, but others are not?

Because some of these ways exploit certain groups of people and marginalize them.

To look down on the things that the poor are willing to do in order to help themselves is an attitude of the privileged

I have said nothing to show I look “down on” the those in the lower economic stratus or what “they” do to help themselves. And I have never suggested that donating an organ is an un-noble thing to do. This is a very crude assumption. And as a person who was raised in a very low economic household, and is still making an income right on the poverty line, you can rest assured I am speaking from the side of the “poor”.

Here is the thing. If I were to support this idea I would support it when selling your organs happens equally between the classes. Then I would support anyone, “poor” or otherwise in doing so. Until then I will think it is exploitation.

We will have to disagree I suppose. :)

wundayatta's avatar

@RedPowerLady We don’t really disagree. I know it’s exploitation. What I’m trying to get you to see is that people are exploited in so many other ways. I’m asking what makes this one any worse than the others? Who are we to tell other people they can be exploited in this way, but not in that way (which might be more lucrative)?

Nothing will ever happen equally between the classes. We will not be economically equal until there are no classes—or, at least, the difference between the wealthiest and poorest is no more than a factor of five.

How is it that you come from an impoverished background, and you can say some more lucrative forms of earning a living should be banned, while less lucrative forms of exploitation should be allowed? Sometimes—nay, often—I think the poor are complicit in their exploitation. They don’t even see it. Or if they do, they don’t think anything can be done about it. Or they justify it to themselves somehow, by distinguishing themselves as moral poor vs immoral poor.

How ironic was it that the organizers of the poor and working classes were the intelligentsia back in the heyday of socialism and communism? It doesn’t work to control the economy, and force people to equality. Innovators and entrepreneurs have no incentive. But when we constrain the free market based on moral ideas instead of letting people choose for themselves, aren’t we just creating a dictatorship of the high-minded?

alive's avatar

Iran allows people to sell their kidneys. (Only country in the world where it is legal and state sanctioned. They cannot sell them to foreigners.)

Iranian Kidney Bargin

I watched this the other day. I think it basically proves that selling organs is a bad idea. People who are extremely desperate for money sell them. It is their last resort and then what do they do when the couple thousand dollars runs out…

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