Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

The Organ Trade Equation

May 20th, 2010 · 6 Comments

As we jam on our monthly Wired column deadline, we thought we’d give y’all something to chew over—a interesting snippet pulled from this excellent Discover piece about the kidney black market in India. Given our philosophical leanings, we generally find ourselves arguing for the legalization and regulation of kidney sales. But then we come across data points like this, and we’re forced to re-evaluate:

Iran, which has allowed kidney donations for cash since 1988, has virtually eliminated the waiting list for the organ. A survey of 500 Iranian donors who received $1,200 and a year of medical insurance from the government found that their quality of life, as measured by factors like financial condition and psychological health, remained poor three to six months after the donation. “Nobody denies that most donors live in extreme poverty; many are drug addicts,” says WHO’s Noël. “There is candid recognition in Iran now that the scheme is working well only for the recipients.”

More on the Iranian experience here. Does this mean that, should a legalized kidney market come to fruition, that donors must be subjected to “fitness tests” to ensure that the financial windfall they receive will be put to good use? Or would that be too much government meddling?


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6 Comments so far ↓

  • Jordan

    Personally, I’d lean towards an opt-out rather than opt-in organ donation system. That seems to have covered a lot of the shortfall in some European countries.

    Also, Organ Donor is definitely one of the best uses of organ riffs in hip-hop. Ever.

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @Jordan: New York is actually considering this–I believe the polite term is “presumed consent”:


    Makes sense to me. I’ve read arguments against it, and none hold water. But I’m of the “I don’t care what happens to my body after I die” school of thought, so that obv. colors my views.

  • Jordan

    Informed consent is definitely a tricky business. After taking a mandatory ethics course as part of my grad program, I’m a lot more aware of what a slippery business it can be. With that said, with the right community input and outreach, I’m betting would could construct a system that wouldn’t piss off too many people.

  • scottstev

    As a bare minimum, the current restrictions for reimbursing donors for expenses incurred need to be done away forthwith. Certainly, we can agree to think very hard on how or weather a market in organ donation should work, but asking a donor to pay for the privilege is a bit much.

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @scottstev: Didn’t realize that was the case. Are recipients legally barred from paying medical expenses for donors? If so, wow, that does seem wrong–not sure how such a thing could possibly be construed as leading us down the slippery slope to an organ market.

    I’d be curious to know how insurance companies deal with these situations, too. It is elective surgery, after all, though a whole heckuva lot different than, say, getting collagen injected into your lips.

  • scottstev

    I believe that its more personal expenses (such as travel and aftercare). Virginia Postrel is all over this, being the most famous Libertarian organ donor of the early 21st cent.