Organ Sale?

Last summer’s Law and Ethics class featured a discussion problem on the ethics of selling kidneys.  Currently transplanted kidneys originate either with voluntary living donors, often the patient’s family members, or from cadavers of those who agreed during life to donate organs.  There is no legal arms-length market for kidneys or other organs in the U.S., although I’ve heard that kidneys can be purchased nonetheless. The National Kidney Foundation states in “25 Facts About Organ Donation and Transplantation” that “[b]ecause of the lack of available donors in this country, 4,573 kidney patients, 1,506 liver patients, 371 heart patients and 234 lung patients died in 2008 while waiting for life-saving organ transplants.”  After debating the issue last year’s class rejected the ethics of an organ market. Recently Sue Rabbit Roff, an academic at Dundee University in Scotland, proposed in the British Medical Journal that college students should be allowed to sell their kidneys for roughly $46,000, which is about the average annual income in the U.K.  Roff wrote “[t]his would be an incentive across most income levels for those who wanted to do a kind deed and make enough money to, for instance, pay off university loans.”  In the linked article Ethics Newsline reports the British Medical Association “is strongly opposed to the idea. Some doctors are concerned about potential abuse while others consider it fundamentally unethical.”

Sovereignty over one’s body and being includes the right to donate organs in certain circumstances.  If I can give my kidney to my sister* then why can’t I sell it to a stranger? The problem is that any such market would be abused, with wealthy purchasers and financially-strapped sellers.  Kazuo Ishiguro explored an extreme version of this in Never Let Me Go, in which a class of humans is cloned and raised solely to be organ donors.  (The book is worth reading.  I don’t know if the recent movie version is worth seeing.) One ethical tenet states that people should be valued as ends in themselves and not be used as means to an end.  An organ market turns that on its head.

However, it would however certainly redefine the meaning of alumni giving.

*This is NOT an invitation, Barbara

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