Changing Views on Organ Prohibition

I spoke recently at the Kidney and Urology Foundation of America on using incentives to increase organ donation.  Also speaking was Nancy Scheper-Hughes, the courageous UC Berkeley detective/anthropologist responsible for busting international rings of organ traffickers.

Scheper-Hughes is well known as an opponent of kidney vending, especially because it has often involved the exploitation of poor people in the developing world (fyi, there is no question that exploitation has occurred even if you take the view, as I do, that payment per se is not exploitation.)  In her impassioned talk, Scheper-Hughes presented many pictures of poor people with large scars.  

Thus, I was very surprised that Scheper-Hughes favors a trial of compensation for deceased donation and is even supportive of a trial for compensated live donation saying:

"There are penalties for buying, selling and brokering the sale of organs in this country, but still it goes on, often with an attitude of 'don't ask, don't tell.' I believe that if the laws are not going to be followed, then the laws should change. First, though, a controlled study must take place, in an ethical manner, with a sample of volunteer organ donors being compensated appropriately."

As with alcohol and drug prohibition, many people who do not favor organ sales are coming to recognize that a regulated market or compensation system could be preferable to an illegal market.

Addendum: My powerpoint slides Using Incentives to Increase Organ Donation, cover the problem and some potential solutions which are being adopted around the world.  Also included at the end are some slides especially designed for teaching this material in a principles of economics class.


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