Paid organ donation still a sticky wicket

Kidneys

The issue of paid organ donation remains as contentious as ever. Photo Credit: Rainer Zenz/Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY-SA

It is fairly well known that there are far more people on organ transplant lists than will ever likely get one. However, the idea of paid organ donation has been brought up as a possible solution, though evidence that it works and the reactions to the possibility are a mixed bag.

Paid organ donation a contentious issue

According to the Organ Procurement and Transplant Network, part of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration, there are 115,045 people waiting to get an organ transplant as of Aug. 28, 2012. Not all will receive one either. According to a 2009 USA Today article, roughly 4,500 people die every year just waiting for a kidney transplant and, according to ABC, roughly 18 people die waiting for an organ every day.

To shore up the shortage and wait times, it has been suggested that paid organ donation be an option. The issue is contentious, due to the ethics involved. It means people could donate kidneys or pieces of liver or other organs for monetary gain or that possibly rich people will just buy up the available supply, leaving everyone else to hold on or die.

Mixed results

According to Freakonomics, a recent study, by researchers from the University of Toronto, the University of Michigan and Johns Hopkins, examined whether or not some of the current incentives being offered were working. Paid organ donation is illegal in the United States, but in some states, paid leave for organ donation and tax incentives are available to people who donate an organ or bone marrow.

The study found that the tax credits didn’t make much of an impact on actual organ donation, however states that granted paid leave to state employees for bone marrow donation had an increase in bone marrow donations. However, a side benefit was noted that “better” organs were donated, as patient survival rates increased.

The only country with an official paid organ donation policy, according to the study, is Iran, which also happens to be the only country without an organ shortage. The government pays citizens $1,200 for donating a kidney, along with one year of free post-donation health care. Some other countries provide discounts on health insurance or other incentives in certain circumstances.

Already a black market

Though legal paid organ donation may be an unpopular idea, there is, like it or not, a good deal of illegal paid donation going on. According to Fox News, the World Health Organization estimates 10 percent of organ transplants are done using black market organs. According to Fox News Latino, a great deal of black market organs are sourced from South America. Donors are often paid as little as $1,000, though recipients pay upward of $200,000 for the organ, often to brokers in the ranks of organized crime.

However, according to CNN, some organ harvesting is done at gun point. Corpses of refugees in the Sinai peninsula have been found with organs removed. Though legitimizing the activities of criminals is never a pleasant proposition, ensuring people’s safety is one of the essential functions of government, or is at least supposed to be. If some people are willing, perhaps it’s time to make it legal for those who elect for it?

Sources

Freakonomics

Organ donation study (PDF – Requires Adobe Reader)

OPTN

Fox News: http://www.foxnews.com/health/2012/05/28/growing-demand-fuels-black-market-organ-trade/

Fox Latino: http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/news/2012/08/16/organ-trafficking-on-rise-in-united-states/

USA Today: http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2009-01-29-transplant-donors_N.htm

ABC: http://abcnews.go.com/Health/states-instant-spike-organ-donors-facebook-push/story?id=16255979#.UD0zcqCBW_0

CNN: http://cnnpressroom.blogs.cnn.com/2012/08/28/a-stand-in-the-sinai-a-cnn-freedom-project-documentary/

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