Thursday, June 25, 2009

Do the Well-to-Do Have a Better Shot at Organ Transplants?

Many of you may recall the furor about ten years ago when someone offered to sell a kidney through ebay.

Back then, as it is now, buying and selling human organs was illegal under US federal law. So the ebay posts were promptly removed.

Yet many economists for years have been suggesting that the blanket prohibition should be relaxed, arguing that high prices would achieve in limited markets for organs what they accomplish elsewhere: a greater quantity supplied--meaning that more people would make their organs available to others, in most cases upon the eventual death of the "seller."

NPR held a debate on this topic as part of its Intelligence Squared US series several years ago. And the advocates made the simple argument that a greater availability of organs would lead to a greater number of lives improved or saved.

For the time being, though, the ban continues because many think it either unseemly to sell something like a kindey, or unfair because then the price will determine who gets a kidney (rather than a waitlist), leading to only the rich getting transplants.

Yet Steve Jobs just received a new liver, and CNN reports that being wealthy can be really, really helpful in getting a liver sooner than others with more modest incomes--even though livers and other organs are not for sale. But not for the reasons you might first think . . .

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