Monday, April 23, 2007

Europeans consider paying organ donors

William Saletan writes:
Twice in the past two weeks, transplant experts from around the world have convened in Europe to discuss the emerging global market in human organs. Two maps presented at the meetings tell the story. One shows countries from which patients have traveled for organs in the past three years: Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Taiwan. The other shows countries from which organs have been sold: China, Colombia, Pakistan and the Philippines.

The numbers on the maps add up to thousands. According to the World Health Organization, the annual tally of international kidney transactions is about 6,000. ...

Politicians have tried to rein in this market. The United States banned organ sales two decades ago. India did the same in 1994, and China followed last year. But when lives are at stake, rules get bent. To procure more organs, doctors have discarded brain-death standards, donor age limits and recipient health requirements. States have let transplant agencies put patients on life support, contrary to their living wills, to preserve their organs. ...

Some reformers think they can solve the organ shortage and tame the market by legalizing sales. Their latest proposal, presented at one of the European meetings last week by Arthur Matas of the University of Minnesota, is a single-payer system for organs. It is half-libertarian and half-socialist. On the one hand, Matas says markets for eggs and sperm are harmless, kidney purchases can save countries money and offering poor people cash for organs is no more coercive than offering them money to work in mines or join the army. On the other hand, he thinks the government can fix kidney prices and determine who gets them.

But studies reviewed at the meetings in Europe show that flooding the market with purchased organs reduces the incentive to donate.
I believe that reducing the incentive to donate would be a good thing. The organ donors are being exploited the most.

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