Christian Longo, 37, a death row inmate in Oregon who wants to donate his organs asked, “Why go out and waste your organs when you have the potential to go out and save six to twelve lives?” Good question. He even offered to waive his appeals in exchange for the right to donate his organs. This was a win-win-win deal. The State saves money. Longo gets moral satisfaction. And the lives of numerous patients are saved. The State rejected the offer.
The government’s unexplainable antagonism towards changes in organ policy is perplexing, particularly because the two groups most affected by the prohibition are sympathetic constituents: the sick and the poor. As of September 2010, there were 108,725 people on the waitlist for organs in the United States. The waitlist for organs continues to grow by about 300 people each month. The number of people waiting for organs is growing faster than the number of available donors. On average, 19 people die each day waiting for organ transplants. That totals to roughly 7000 deaths each year as a result of organ shortages—a yearly death toll that more than triples the deaths from Hurricane Katrina.
The sick need organs. The poor need money. A simple organ clearinghouse would solve the problem. The poor would receive upfront money from the clearinghouse while still alive in exchange for their commitment to bequeath their organs to the clearinghouse when they die. Sick patients would purchase organs from the clearinghouse. No one loses in this exchange.
The poor lose nothing while alive, but get a substantial sum of money now that could be used to help pull them out of poverty. In China, where the organs of death row prisoners are sold, livers go for $25,000, kidneys for $20,000, corneas for $5,000, and pancreases for $5,000. In the Philippines, where organ trading is legal, kidneys have reportedly sold to Western patients for $85,000 each. Someone agreeing to bequeath every organ in their body to a clearinghouse could easily get $50,000 or more for this promise, without giving up anything in the present. For people struggling to live from paycheck to paycheck, this amount of money could literally change the course of their lives.
So long as the government enforces the non-aggression principle, there simply is no good reason for prohibiting this type of organ exchange. The government’s prohibition on organ trading robs the poor of one of their most valuable assets and prevents countless patients from receiving the life-saving transplants that they need.
Government, please get out of the way.
This article was also published in the Chicago Tribune.