Australia to Compensate Organ Donors

Australia once again proves that it is a world leader in innovative public policy with an experimental plan to compensate (living) organ donors.

Workers who want to donate a kidney will be offered up to six weeks’ paid leave under a federal government plan to reduce the waiting list for life-saving organs.

Health Minister Tanya Plibersek and parliamentary secretary for health and ageing Shanye Neumann say the government will put up $1.3 million over two year for a trial that will be reviewed in 2015.

Ms Plibersek says living donors will be paid six weeks on minimum wage, totalling up to $3600, to help take the financial pressure off before and after the major surgery.

…the scheme is one step towards bridging the gap between the number of kidney donors and recipients.

The proposed experiment does, however, contains a peculiar restriction which is worth highlighting because it illustrates a tension between economics and ethics, at least ethics as conventionally understood (e,g, Michael Sandel). The compensation “will only be available to donors who have a job.”

The idea, I believe, is to avoid any hint of “exploitation” or “pecuniary coercion.” The problem is that another word for pecuniary coercion is incentive. Thus, the goal is to increase the supply of organs without creating an incentive to supply organs, at least not a strong incentive. To help navigate this invisible line the amount paid is low and the only people who can receive compensation are the ones who don’t need the money. In short, the plan discriminates against the unemployed so that no one can accuse the government of exploiting the unemployed by giving them too much money.

Nevertheless, although the amount is small and restricted, Australia’s willingness to experiment with the idea of compensation in order to save lives is laudable and potentially groundbreaking.

Hat tip: Andrew Leigh.

Addendum: For other innovative approaches to the worldwide shortage of transplant organs see my articles here and here.


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