Policy: What is a transplant worth? By John Pluenneke

Nearly a hundred thousand Americans are on waiting lists  hoping for organ transplants. Thousands will
die this year alone. Should a free market be allowed to develop to allow those who
can afford to do so to purchase the liver or kidney that will let them to go on

Rather surprisingly, I find
myself agreeing with an editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle today by David
Holcberg at the Ayn Rand Institute – of all places – who argues that opponents of a legalized
organ trade,  although well-intentioned, have it the wrong way around.   

Poor people, they claim, are
incapable of making rational choices, and so must be protected from themselves.
But the fact is that human beings (poor or rich) do have the capacity of reason
and should be free to exercise it. Of course, the decision to sell an organ
should not be made lightly. That some people might make irrational choices,
however, is no reason to violate the rights of everyone. If the law recognizes
our right to give away an organ, it should also recognize our right to sell one.

There are important questions which Holcberg
does not address. What would such a market look
like?  How would it be regulated, if at
all?  Who among us is to say what the
exact price of a heart should be?  A million
dollars? Two?  What about a kidney?

The implications
for society as a whole are thought-provoking.  The skeptics are
correct of course when they raise questions. Would there be instances in which desperately
ill people were taken advantage of by the greedy and unscrupulous? Clearly, yes.  But then again, that already happens every
day. It’s time for a  sane policy.

UPDATE: The compensation issue is clearly going to get a lot of play after the latest developments in the ethics controversy surrounding the Korean stem cell program. Last week, there was the news that  Korean researchers paid women the equivalent of $1,500 each to donate their eggs to help scientist Dr. Hwang Woo Suk’s research. Then, last night Korean TV broadcast an hour long special in which several women who took part in the experiments say they were under financial pressure at the time. Roh Sung Il, the manager of the Seoul fertility clinic involved, argues the arrangement was not outlawed at the time the donations took place …   

The latest evidence appears to show that Koreans still back Hwang – who is considered a national hero for his work. The Korea Times  has a poll out this morning that claims 2 out of 3 Koreans still support Hwang despite the charges.

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