jump to navigation

Department of Unintended Consequences – Part II January 21, 2007

Posted by federalist in Human Markets, Regulation.

There are potential moral hazards associated with a human organ market.  I believe they all reduce to the problem of creating an incentive for stealing organs in order to resell them.  In this regard, the organ market is like any other market: Its moral integrity depends on governments ensuring that property rights are respected.  I.e., government has a proper role in ensuring that ownership of human organs is maintained, and that only voluntary transactions between an organ owner and a purchaser are allowed.

Previous articles have addressed the socialist system our goverment has contrived to control the human organ market.  This month Forbes brings us a fascinating article on the gray market that has sprung up to compensate for the lack of a white market here. 

Iran is the only state in the world today that operates, controversially, a legal, commercial market in organs and then only for the benefit of its citizens. This might be changing: Saudi Arabia passed a law in October that allows up to $13,000 to change hands between unrelated donors and organ recipients. China, meanwhile, has been attracting large numbers of transplant tourists like Kevin Scott by using its massive prison population as a ready organ bank. (Click here for more.)

Most nations have instead adopted highly regulated donation systems like the United Network of Organ Sharing in the U.S. UNOS monitors each kidney, lung, heart or liver available from a deceased donor going to a patient on a wait list. The problem: The wait list for organs in the U.S. has doubled in the last decade, to 94,000. People on the wait list die (or, like Scott, get forced off, for various reasons) at the rate of 12,000 a year. The lucky recipients of a kidney, say, have been waiting, on average, 3.2 years (latest figure, from 2001). The wait time for a kidney in western Europe is also three years, notes the Council of Europe, but it is expected to rise to ten years by 2010.

The reason for the shortfall: A decline in supply occasioned by the long-term fall in the car accident death rate has coincided with a growth in demand occasioned by aging demographics and breakthroughs in medicine. Better antirejection drugs and surgery techniques make more patients good candidates for transplants. “There’s no question that transplants not only improve the quality of life, they also improve the quantity of life,” says Dr. Brian Pereira, former president of the U.S.’ National Kidney Foundation.

If state-run organ banks can’t deliver enough organs, then the terminally ill will take risks and, if necessary, break laws to stay alive, even for just a few more months.

It’s a Faustian bargain tailor-made for the Internet age.

According to Organs Watch, a live-donor kidney typically trades hands for $1,500 in the Philippines, $2,700 in Moldova and Romania, $7,500 in Turkey, $10,000 in Peru and $30,000 in the U.S.

Such price differentials are arbitraged by Internet brokers, and, like all modern markets, it’s a fast-shifting business.



No comments yet — be the first.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: