Should people be allowed to sell their organs?
How much would it take for you to consider selling your bone marrow? A U.S. appeals court puts the price at about $3,000 in a ruling that now makes it legal to pay donors for their bone-marrow tissue.
The court’s decision may well help thousands of sick patients who need bone-marrow transplants to survive, but it also begs the question, What other body parts might next be up for sale..?
While the decision applies only to the nine states covered by the Ninth Circuit court, and only to bone marrow obtained through apheresis, it does raise bigger questions about how we will look at organ donation in the future. With about 114,000 people waiting for organs in the U.S. alone on any given day, and only 3,300 donors, the urgent medical need runs up against moral standards of the value of human life. Once we start paying for the parts we need, though, how far do we go..?
Of course, certain body parts are already up for sale. Aside from sperm and plasma, donors can also be paid for their eggs and hair. But by expanding that list, the court’s ruling reopens the long-standing ethical debate over the commercialization of human tissues. For now, legally “sellable” human body parts aren’t ones that could be used to cure fatal diseases, which prevents a market frenzy.
But if the bone-marrow case starts changing that — and experts say it could — it might jump-start a dangerous trend in which lower-income groups were disproportionately targeted or incentivized to give up their marrow and people with rarer blood types demanded more money for their valuable cells.
Nevertheless, selling tissues or organs may not be the logical first step in addressing the disconnect between supply and demand. Klitzman notes that there are other changes we can make to U.S. organ-donation policy that might improve giving rates. In Spain, for example, all citizens are organ donors by default; those who don’t wish to participate must opt out. In the U.S., in contrast, people must voluntarily opt in to give, which could be a deterrent.
Since I sometimes accept the definition of Libertarian Leftie – especially in discussion of my right to exercise choice over how and when I die – it’s no stretch to include selling body parts. Though I’d like to think I’ll always be in sound enough economic circumstances to make a decision to donate, I can envision compensation being useful. As a cranky old geek this is mostly a theoretical discussion, anyway. I’m more likely to be in need of the donation rather than vice-versa.
Still, I feel it’s a reasonable decision for me to make on my own. The only proviso I’d throw into the mix is the responsibility to maintain myself through any problems that arise. Public healthcare shouldn’t pick up that responsibility. If we had real public healthcare that is.