Friday, September 24, 2010

Is It Ever Right to Buy or Sell Human Organs?

debate: Sally Satel and Jeremy Chapman

New Internationalists
September 23, 2010

A leading medical think-tank, The Nuffield Council for Bioethics in London, is currently examining this thorny issue. They are due to report their findings in 2011. In the meantime we have asked two experts to argue the case for and against.


The global organ shortage has spawned illegal and unregulated organ markets. The World Health Organization estimates that five to ten per cent of all kidneys transplanted annually – perhaps 63,000 in total – are obtained in the organ bazaars of Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and South America. Thus, we face a dual tragedy: on one side, thousands of patients who die each year waiting for a kidney; on the other, a human rights fiasco in which corrupt brokers deceive indigent donors about the nature of surgery, cheat them out of payment and ignore their post-surgical needs.

Altruistic appeals to organ donation have not yielded enough organs for transplantation. Not all developed countries have made the most use of posthumous donation, and of course they should. Unfortunately, much of the world transplant establishment – including the World Health Organization, the Transplantation Society and the World Medical Association – focuses exclusively on obliterating organ trafficking. While at face value this may seem reasonable, in reality it is a lethally one-sided prescription, because trying to stamp out underground markets either drives corruption further underground or causes it to flourish elsewhere. Government-sponsored compensation of healthy individuals who are willing to give one of their kidneys to save the life of a dying stranger is the best short-term solution.