The Price is Right

One of the most bizarre aspects of the organ shortage is that it is illegal to pay for cadaveric organs for use in transplants but it is legal to pay for cadavers.  That’s right, it’s illegal to pay people to donate their organs for the purpose of saving lives but medical schools can pay people to donate their bodies so that plastic surgeons can practice their nip and tuck.   

In a remarkable paper forthcoming in Cato’s Regulation and reported in the Washington Post, economists David Harrington and Edward Sayre take the argument one step further.  Medical schools regularly offer to pay funeral expenses for whole body donation.  So does the offer of payment deter altruistic donation and decrease the supply, as we have been told could occur if we were to compensate organ donors?  Of course not.  In fact, Harrington and Sayre note that the offer to pay funeral expenses is worth more in states where the funeral industry is heavily regulated and thus prices are high and, just as predicted in Econ 101, the supply of whole body donations is higher in those states.

It’s time to lift the price control on human organs, relieve the shortage and save lives.


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