My AEI colleague Sally Satel makes the case above for making it legal for organ donors to receive compensation and argues in favor of the motion “We should legalize the market for human organs” at an Intelligence Squared Debate in NYC in 2008.
The chart below illustrates very “graphically” the serious and growing kidney shortage in America – the number of registered patients on the waiting list for kidneys is approaching 100,000 patients (98,463 as of October 25, 2013, data here), while the number of kidney transplant operations has been stuck at about 16,500 for the last decade. As a result of the severe kidney shortage in America, largely because kidney donors cannot legally receive any form of compensation, 13 people on the waiting list died every day last year, and another 7 were removed from the waiting list because they became too sick to receive a transplant and were likely close to death.
Bottom Line: The federal ban that makes it illegal to compensate kidney (and bone marrow) donors is another example of what I have documented as the “fallacy of the special case” – the flawed support for exceptions to economic reality and the market’s pricing process (e.g. minimum wage, ticket scalping laws, rent control, etc.). In this case, what is so special about kidneys or bone marrow that justifies a federal ban against allowing a scarce resource to be allocated by market forces and market pricing?
We’re allowed to receive compensation for selling our hair, blood plasma, sperm and eggs, so why should kidneys or bone marrow (which regenerates) fall into a special class that prohibits market exchanges? Banning compensation for kidneys and bone marrow is a sure death sentence for thousands of Americans – for example, see this report on a Stanford professor who died this week because she was unable to find a bone marrow donor – and ending the ban on donor compensation would save thousands of lives for many of the patients on the growing waiting lists for organs like kidneys. Let’s legalize compensation for organ donors.