Saving lives by legalizing organ trade

It’s your worst fear—waking up in a bathtub full of ice and discovering one of your kidneys is missing. You start piecing the night together bit by bit. You remember feeling a little out of your league when that gorgeous Russian girl walked up with a crantini, your favorite drink. Not a word of English but she was awfully cute trying to hide that bump on her throat.  Before you completely lost consciousness, you realized this girl was packing more than an Adam’s apple – she had a complete surgical toolkit in her purse.  Finally you recognize that you have fallen victim to a human organ trafficking operation and do some research into this horrible practice.

In the U.S. there are over 100,000 people on the waiting list for an organ. Eighty thousand need a kidney and 15,000 a liver. Gee, over 90% of the people on the waiting list need either something that everybody’s got two of, or something that is self-regenerating. It is simply unthinkable that there are not enough donors to satisfy this small demand.

You find a seemingly good idea: compensate the families of deceased donors and start a business that buys kidneys from living donors. This was publicly suggested to the U.S. government in 1983 to incentivize donation, thereby increasing it. But we can’t let money replace altruism, cheapening those warm and fuzzy feelings obtained by doing something so selfless. Anyone who has no moral qualms about buying or selling organs can just go to hell – literally.

Ah no worries, our well-intentioned, forward-looking politicians are on the case. They’ll get those greedy bastards who want money for organs! Reps. Henry Waxman and Al Gore headed the effort to hurriedly pass the National Organ Transplantation Act in 1984, which banned the sale of human organs from dead and living donors. Yes, Al Gore, the man who lives an extravagant yet “carbon neutral” lifestyle by purchasing carbon offsets…from a company he partly owns.

So now the free exchange of goods between two desperate people – one for life and the other for money – has been turned into a crime and forced underground. Organ traffickers fill the void created by prohibition just as with alcohol in the 1920s and drugs today. The black market is simply the free market working around legislation that attempts to repeal the immutable laws of human action (economics).

You realize that by legalizing the organ trade you can spare thousands of lives. Now all you have to do is persuade your friendly lawmaker.

Condemning tens of thousands to suffering and, on average, 18 people per day to death just to impose their moral views upon everybody? Human organ traffickers can’t hold a candle to the gang of thieves called Congress.

September 9, 2009


Timothy Heacock

Staff Columnist

2 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Saving lives by legalizing organ trade”

  1. Tim Heacock says:

    My source for the waiting list is from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) which “maintains the only national patient waiting list and features the most comprehensive data available in any single field of medicine.”


    I chose the “Candidates – A patient who is waiting at more than one center, or for multiple organs, would be counted as only one candidate.” option over the “Registrations – A patient who is waiting at more than one center, or for multiple organs, would have multiple registrations.” to get a more accurate figure.

    Right now the site has data that is up to date as of September 4, 2009. You can check it out yourself. There is no data for “active vs inactive” people waiting for kidneys.

    I never said there weren’t risks to living donation. The fact is that people can and do donate while living. It’s called a trade-off, the donor is willing to risk his life for a reward. Unfortunately our politicians have made that decision for all of us and no monetary compensation can be given legally. Why can’t people make their own decisions about life and money?

    Even if the waiting list is smaller by 1/3 as you claim my point still remains that thousands of people are unnecessarily suffering and dying. This was a sarcastic piece using the example of organ donation to show how inept and short sighted our lawmakers are.

    “The National Organ Transplant Act of 1984 was meant to address…” Quite shocking indeed that a law intended to save lives only makes things worse for everyone. I’m sure any Congressman, Senator, or President would immediately move to the top of the waiting list. After all they are our masters and better than all of us. Intentions of laws don’t matter, only results, both intended and unintended, do.

    “To be credible, get your facts correct. Do you still have 2 kidneys??” Yes.

  2. Not sure who your source is regarding the national wait list. There are not 100,000 actively waiting for an organ. Was published in The Washington Post last year that 1/3 are not eligible–the wait list is inflated. There are not 80,000 waiting for kidneys; more like 50,000. Find out the active vs inactive list. Scary that supposed experts in data can inflate their denominator just to push the wait list over 100,000.
    As for the living–we do not have an extra or spare. We have 2 kidneys for a reason. Once they take a kidney, we lose 50% of our renal mass. It does not grow back or regenerate kidney tissue. It compensates for the loss by hypertrophy (meaning is working harder) and hyperfiltration. Plus, as we age, the loss of renal mass compromises our renal reserve. Recommend you read the book chapter on Adaptation to Nephron Loss in Benner and Rechter’s The Kidney.
    Wish journalists would get this information correct–WAIT list is inflated. Living donation is NOT without risks. And by the way–our donor nephrectomy is called a ‘pre-existing’ condition for which we can be denied life and disability insurance. Sure, they might not deny us health insurance by premiums will increase.

    The National Organ Transplant Act of 1984 was meant to address abuses in the system like not sharing organs, organs not going to the sickest, etc. Here we are 25 years later still saying Death by Geography is real (LA Times), Doing a Volume Business (WSJ and Pittsburg Tribune Review) and Lives on the Line(St. Louis Post-Dispatch 2005 5-day series on living donation.)

    To be credible, get your facts correct. Do you still have 2 kidneys??

TMH Twitter
About Us

The Miami Hurricane is the student newspaper of the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida. The newspaper is edited and produced by undergraduate students at UM and is published in print every Tuesday.