When Altruism Doesn’t Sell, Organs Can Be Enticed by Money

According to estimates provided by the Harvard News Office in February of 2008, in the United States alone there are 73,000 individuals who are on the waiting list to receive kidneys. Worldwide there are over a million people with end-stage renal disease, which results in death without a kidney transplant. Poverty levels are as high as ever and unfortunately the economic crisis in the U.S. goes beyond its borders. People need organs, while others need money. Therefore, the question must be posed: Should the poor be allowed to sell their organs?
One possible argument to put forth is that allowing organ sales could give those who are in less than dire straits the option to sell their organs. This would in turn do lifelong damage for a cheap buck. Nowhere is the idea of regulation better directed than in this regard. Selling organs in a regulated market is in no way desirable, but should be seen as a better alternative than selling organs in an unregulated market.
Likewise, with any sale, the idea of a commodity is created, and by being allowed to sell their organs, those at a financial disadvantage could be seen as essentially turning themselves into commodities. Poor people would then be creating an even greater class discrepancy because they could be viewed as products to buy and sell.
Although in theory being able to sell one’s organs may be a matter of personal freedom and at the same time somewhat ludicrous, one has to look beyond the issue as simply a vague concept. For example, the National Kidney Foundation, which plays a considerable part in the process of kidney transplantation in the U.S., is currently opposed to individuals receiving compensation for offering their kidneys to be used as transplants. Without the support of such organizations, it is difficult to regulate any potential organ market, and those in need of money to the extent that they would be willing to sell their organs must then turn to unregulated markets. This is perhaps the most irresponsible aspect of prohibiting organ sales, as individuals are not educated prior to the procedure and can also be put in less than sanitary conditions. While this may be less of a concern in developed countries such as the U.S., not all countries have such luxuries.
Currently the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act of 1968 prohibits the sale of human organs in any form in the U.S., making any thought of a regulated American organ market moot. On the opposite side of the spectrum, some countries such as the Republic of Singapore offer large compensations to purchase organs, which sounds ethically shaky at best. While arguments can be made in favor or in opposition to both systems, what cannot be argued is that there is a considerable difference between the quality of life in the U.S. and the quality of life in Singapore. Most Americans may never have to worry about being so impoverished that they have to consider selling their organs, since most Americans are better off economicaly than most Singaporeans, even though Singapore is not the worst country off in the world —not by far.
As a whole, the idea of selling one’s organs is irresponsible and should never be done for profit. Still, if individuals are doing poorly enough and governments are unable to provide for them, these governments at least have the responsibility to create a regulated market that can be monitored. If someone is committed to selling an organ and there are outside sources willing to perform such operations in unsanitary areas, they will do it. Better to at least provide safe accommodations than nothing at all.
In an ideal world the idea of having to sell an organ to survive would not exist. Yet, in an ideal world neither would kidney disease or starvation.

Daniel Johnson is a fourth-year literary journalism and film and media studies double-major. He can be reached at dcjohnso@uci.edu.