Buy my kidney
by Ari Armstrong
The following article originally appeared at Boulder Weekly on November 18, 2004.
Politicians, and the doctors who support them, allow some 4,000 people to die every year. These lives are sacrificed to egalitarianism, and the cause of death is price controls.
According to DonorAlliance.org, "More than 83,000 Americans are currently waiting for organs for transplantation. The list grows by approximately 500 names each month. Regionally, more than 1,400 people are on the organ waiting list in the central Rocky Mountain area."
Thankfully, the group reports, "Every year the lives of about 500,000 Americans are saved and enhanced by organ and tissue donation." One donor can help hundreds of people. So sign up for organ donation (as I have done)–you won't need your organs once you're dead, and somebody else may desperately need them.
Yet, even though the donation system saves many lives, the prohibition of organ sales kills thousands of people every year and causes needless pain as patients wait for a transplant. A story in the Denver Post describes the case of "a Denver woman who has waited for a liver more than five years..."
The waiting lines for organs are caused by price controls. Specifically, federal law sets the price ceiling for organs at zero. Which means that there is a shortage of organs, as there is a shortage of anything subjected to price ceilings.
Most stunning is that thousands of people are left to die annually because of the alleged "ethical" concerns of those who have pledged to first do no harm. So let me put the matter bluntly. Those who support the prohibition of organ sales are guilty of a moral atrocity. While killing people through price controls is not the same thing as outright murder, it is a form of homicide, as it involves actively preventing people from saving their own lives.
The politics of organ transplants bubbled into the popular media last month when Bob Hickey of Edwards paid MatchingDonors.com $295 for each of three months to advertise his need for a kidney. Rob Smitty of Chattanooga, Tenn., responded. Surgeons at Presbyterian St. Luke's Medical Center in Denver conducted the transplant, after delaying the surgery because of "ethical" concerns.
So how did we reach the point where doctors are concerned that they might actually save a patient's life? The only true ethical concern is that the surgery was needlessly delayed.
Yet apparently in medical and political circles it passes as uncontroversial that thousands of people should be left to suffer and die every year. The Denver Post reports that Susan Mandell, a University of Colorado anesthesiologist who has served on the United Network of Organ Sharing ethics committee, and Mark Yarborough, director of the University of Colorado's center for bioethics, "are troubled because those who need organs must pay to be listed on the website. And that puts those who can't afford such membership at a disadvantage."
This is more proof that egalitarianism means equality in suffering and death. Yes, economic liberty allows magnificent differences in income. It also allows for enormous production of wealth that improves the lives of the poorest in society as well. This seems paradoxical only to those who focus on the distribution of wealth rather than the production of wealth. Egalitarians would rather see everybody equally poor than some people well off and others extraordinarily rich.
Besides, these faux concerns for the poor are completely ridiculous. Three points are in order.
First, a free market in organ sales would likely completely wipe out the waiting list and make organs available essentially on demand. Now, people's desire to donate organs is counterbalanced by the psychological pain of imagining one's organs being removed. But throw a few thousand dollars into the mix and the number of people donating organs upon death will explode. (People could either take money in advance or let their families collect the funds.) The Center for Organ Recovery and Education notes, "Between 10,000 and 12,000 people die annually who are considered medically suitable for organ donation, yet only an estimated 6,000 donate." There might also be a small demand for certain organs (like kidneys) from live donors.
Second, a free market in organ sales would be legally regulated the same way that all markets are regulated. Specifically, the initiation of force and fraud would be outlawed, and contractual agreements would require people capable of making rational decisions. The potential threat of killing people for their organs would be solved the same way the potential threat of killing people for their money is solved: outlawing it and enforcing the laws rigorously.
Third, for those uninsured and unable to afford an organ, charitable groups could solicit organ donations specifically for the poor or raise money to buy organs for the poor. Remember, a free market would result in a dramatic increase in quantity of organs supplied, so the price for organs would be naturally restrained.
Another concern is that a market in organs would exploit poor donors. Precisely how is giving money to poor people "exploiting" them? If exploitation means being showered in money, please sign me up.
Everyone should see the excellent film Dirty Pretty Things, in which illegal immigrants subject themselves to brutal, illegal transplants to buy forged documents and transportation. This is another example of death by politics: specifically, the politics of anti-immigration. It is not an indictment of legal organ sales, but rather an argument for them: a free market legally protects people from force, fraud and negligence. Those who point to the problems of prohibition as a reason to maintain prohibition are, put simply, idiots.
When it comes to organ transplants, the medical establishment should surrender its ethics of death and learn a little economics.