Organs in the American Markeplace

Researchers compared the responses of those who were given the money option up front with those that were given altruistic-only scenarios to start and found that the "specter of payment did not affect whether they responded 'yes' to doing it for free."

What this data cannot predict, however, is what percentage of people would actually donate, Halpern warns.

"The study has been misinterpreted by some," he says. "They'll cite that 30 percent of people are willing to donate an organ to a stranger, but the study was not designed to gauge this. The study offers a number for this, but I don't believe that number."

Instead, he warns, the study can suggest how changes in incentive structures change an individual's decision to donate. But at the end of the day, these were hypothetical questions.

Selling Our Bodies

The equality or success of the incentive aside, the question to ask in this debate may be: As a nation, are we OK with the idea of making a profit off of our organs?

Up until 2008, the letter of the law was that no compensation whatsoever -- short of the joy of giving -- could be given in exchange for organs, according to the National Organ Transplant Act of 1984.

But the Charlie Norwood amendment, passed two years ago, provided a tiny window in the legislation that allowed for paired organ donation.

That is a system whereby an organ swap, sometimes with up to 26 people involved, takes people who would give a kidney to their loved ones but are not matches for them and allows them to give their organs to strangers in return for the organ of other strangers who match their loved ones. Thirteen patients in the Washington, D.C. area were given a new lease on life last Christmas by just such a swap.

But is there a difference between payment in kind and payment in cash? This organ quid pro quo was passed by Congress with overwhelming approval, but other forms of compensation are seen as unethical, Harlan Abraham, lawyer and co-author of "On the List: Fixing America's Failing Organ Transplant System", points out.

Isn't a wife who donates a kidney for her husband, on whom she relies for income, also donating for compensation in a way? Cronin asks.

Halpern goes even further, arguing that while kidney donation is an extremely low-risk transaction, another form of selling the body, prostitution, brings great risk to the seller. Even readily acceptable trades such as stunt doubling and playing for the NFL are ways of selling the body by incurring bodily risks, he says.

So where do should the line be drawn when it comes to putting bodies on the market?

That is an unanswerable question, Abraham says.

"If only religion ruled the day, we'd get one answer," he says. "And if only politics ruled the day, we'd get another. And if only economics ruled, we'd get yet another.

"Eighteen people will die today on an organ donation wait list, and 18 tomorrow," he adds. "Right now, there is a disincentive to donate because health insurance doesn't always cover post surgery."

Changing Face of Organ Donation

But, Abraham argued, an organ market is not the way to meet the need.

He prefers non-monetary compensation, such as 20 years of health care or life insurance, or even tax credits, as a way to "give donors an incentive that isn't bargaining for their flesh."

"There is a reason that selling organs is illegal in almost every country of the world," he says. "I believe it's unethical."

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