“If you lose your job, you can sell your home. If you lose your home, you can sell your posessions. If you lose your posessions, you can prostitute yourself. And if you lose everything else, you can sell one more thing: your organs.” – William Saletan
One of the most significant medical crises in today’s world is the global shortage of transplant organs. Diseases and illnesses across a global spectrum have multiplied in the last 100 years, intensifying the demand for organ transplants. The United States’ organ donation system has not provided enough incentive for living donors to provide organs, requiring doctors to ignore acceptable medical standards to extend the life of a dying patient.
Five years ago, my aunt was diagnosed with a fatal kidney disease, which was traced back to an illness she had as a child. With a rare blood type, a brutal hospital schedule, and a 2-year-long waiting list, the outlook was somber. Had it not been for a stroke of luck (her husband happens to be a perfect match), she would have died within months. Her story inspired me to take up interest in organ donation and I knew I had a great opportunity to research more for this white paper.
In 1984, the National Organ Transplant Act (NOTA) was enacted in response to the rise of organ transplants to warrant fair and equal allocation of the United States’ organ supply. This act outlawed the selling of organs in the United States. As result of this act, many US patients have resorted to the global organ black market in order to avoid being one of the 6,000 people that die each year waiting for an organ. Current statistics provided by the Organ Procurement & Transplantation Network (OPTN) indicate that in the past three years, the number of active patients on the kidney waiting list has increased by over 80%, while the number of donors has either remained the same or slightly increased.
The need to adjust the organ donor system is now more of an issue than ever before. One alternative is to introduce a compensation-based legal organ market in the United States. Currently, in lieu of dealing in a legal organ market, many patients seek out brokers in the global black market, which is concentrated in a few countries in the world. The participants endure high risks and the vulnerable and usually poor donors often leave surgery in fatal conditions. Offering financial incentives to donors in the United States would ensure that the dangers to the poor and vulnerable in foreign countries would be minimized or eliminated.
Many people see organ donation as not only a moral undertaking but a societal obligation. Providing financial incentives would ensure that people fulfill the ethical duty to save lives. Opposition towards a legal organ market largely includes medical professionals’ opinions on using financial incentives. Medical professionals worry that introducing payments will increase patients’ risk. Additionally, many people are concerned that financial incentives could exploit the poor, who would be the most vulnerable in an organ market. Others also worry about wealthier patients having an advantage over poorer patients and therefore an unequal distribution of organs in a compensation-based organ market. A final concern is that human organs may become commodities.
In my paper, I propose a legal organ market based on financial incentives alongside the current donor market. The 28-year-old US donor system is antiquated and in dire need of change. If donors received a lump sum of money after a transplant was completed, the donor shortage issue would be resolved and lives would be saved.