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.

Comments

This seems to be a moral choice then. Legislators are saying that the prospect of being wrongfully perpetuated in another body is horrific enough to put a specter on all but the most altruistic donations. I've seen rational attacks on this haunting fear before, so I suppose it's just politics as usual holding back reform.

Though I completely agree with your overall point here re: price controls on organs, medical schools do use cadavers for quite a bit more than plastic surgery practice...

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What a disappointment! I was hoping to sell myself to the nearest med school, when I saw, "Medical schools routinely pay for the cremation or burial (often with elaborate memorial ceremonies) of the people whose bodies were donated to them for medical research and student training."
So I am not going to get the money.

It's interesting that people did not like my comment about plastic surgeons. Yet, it is true that a significant use of human cadaveric heads is for plastic surgeons to practice on. Nip and tuck was actually an oblique reference to the show Nip and Tuck, one episode of which features this use. I don't object, by the way, to the use of cadaveric organs for surgeons to practice on. Of course, it is not just plastic surgeons.

Other than medical schools, cadavers are also used in crash tests. See here for more:

http://www.amazon.com/Stiff-Curious-Lives-Human-Cadavers/dp/0393324826/sr=8-1/qid=1165009223/ref=pd_bbs_1/102-7407500-7025731?ie=UTF8&s=books/marginalrevol-20

'The Economist' says Iran has the best organs "market". People can sell their kidneys legally and sale includes insurance that covers almost total health expenses.

That's not all about a mad president and nuclear ambitions, we have a lot to learn from those guys, plus, U.N. usually points Iran as one of the best countries in the world fighting AIDS...

Reading this makes me upset but I can understand where the law is coming from. I think that the law is thinking that it is better to test and figure out what causes people to die rather than paying for an organ that can save the body. They rather save some money by trying to cure people and see what causes the body to get like it is than to do it the easy way and pay for something and fix it. I guess it is to enhance the future doctors knowledge and the possibilities of saving a person life and that is why they do so much studies on the body

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