Body Parts for Sale

May 6, 2008 8:29am

A kidney specialist in Australia has created a ruckus by suggesting a way to end the shortage in organs for transplant — let people sell their kidneys for $50,000 (Australian, equal to about $47,300 U.S.), to the government, for use on an open, legal market. "Being forced to travel overseas and illegally buy an organ from someone who desperately needs the money, with no medical controls over the process and nobody checking whether the kidney is a good match, is what I call unethical," says Dr. Gavin Carney in the Sydney Morning Herald. "But what is the option? Spending eight hours a day on dialysis for up to seven years? Dying on a wait list?" The Herald says 1,800 Australians are waiting for kidney transplants, but only 343 were donated last year. Trading in body parts is something most Americans find horrific, with all its implications of poor people selling their organs — and well-being — to those who can afford it.  But there are occasional calls, such as Dr. Carney’s, for people to reconsider.  And there is one country — Iran — where the sale of organs is legal.  My old friend Stephen Dubner, co-author with Steven Levitt of "Freakonomics", has written about this lately –find his post HERE — and he points us to an analysis by Dr. Benjamin Hippen, a kidney transplant surgeon in Charlotte, posted on the website of the Cato Institute.  Take a look HERE. "Although Iran clearly does not serve as a model for solving most of the world’s problems, its method for solving its organ shortage is well worth examining," writes Hippen. Hippen is quick to say he does not see Americans getting over their repugnance of organ-selling anytime soon, but he calls the shortage of organs for transplant the result of a "terrible policy failure."  He says, "The portion of the National Organ Transplant Act of 1984 which prohibits the sale of organs should be repealed," so that we can explore how a fair market for organs — better, presumably, than Iran’s — might work. Would you sell one of your kidneys?  Tuesday’s edition of the Sydney Morning Herald carries a follow-up story: a man named Craig Gill called the paper to say he’d readily sell a kidney to secure the future of his two-year-old daughter Petal.

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