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Organs for Sale

In today’s world, the transfer of organs from the body of one human to another is often a sordid affair. The hundreds of enterprising criminals dabbling in the field of human organs certainly gives organ “sale” a bad name. Unfortunately, when it comes to the desperate matter of life and death, morality is often rudely shoved aside and exploitation becomes rampant. After all, the poor have organs, and the rich need them. How much simpler can it get? Losing a kidney doesn’t kill you, and when the trade comes in exchange for a couple thousand dollars, it really does seem like a win-win for everyone. Or so it seems.

Currently, the only country that legally permits the sale of human organs is Iran. Other countries are criminalizing organ sale, which consequently results in off-radar side deals. The organs of the poor are extracted and sold like merchandise to a desperate cancer victim thrusting a bundle of money in their direction (who cares about the cost when your life is at stake?), and the middle man happily walks away with a heavier wallet while the exploited receives a minuscule fraction of the money – if he’s lucky.

This entire affair revolves around a single problem: there are not nearly enough organ donors as there are people on the waiting list for an organ donation. In this case, patience is no virtue.

Either you get the kidney and live, or die waiting for all the names on the list above you to be ticked off. I suppose today’s society takes pride in the concept of altruism in the donation of human organs, and if that’s the case, well, I believe the statistics speak for the abundance of such altruism in our world.


Artwork obtained from: Reuters – Mass graves of suspected trafficking victims found in Malaysia

According to the U.S Department of Health and Human Services, an average of 22 people die every day waiting for transplants. That is 22 lives who could have been prolonged if the resources were available. Needs for an organ continue to rise every year, from 23, 198 in 1991 to 121, 272 in 2013, yet the number of organ donors remains more or less constant. Clearly, relying on the altruistic human nature is not an effective solution. What is, it is the legalization of organ sale.

Money talks. Asking people to give a part of themselves to a family member is sometimes a difficult task. How much harder is it to ask that for a stranger? Sure, you can play the sympathy card and tell them how that little girl will live a long, happy life with the kidney you gave her – but at the end of the day, are you willing to compensate your health for a total stranger’s? When you factor money into the equation, everything changes. Supply increases, and with that supply, more people live.

Personal autonomy is a core principle in the field of medicine. The idea that a person has the right to do what they want with their body sparks numerous debates in other ethical dilemmas such as abortion and surrogacy. If I don’t own my body and the decisions that happen to it, who does? If I want to use my body, and what’s more, help someone, that should be my decision, right?

Of course, this is all very inspiring and empowering, but consider this: how do we stop those aforementioned ‘entrepreneurs’ from simply forcing or tricking the poor to sell their organs and pocketing the profit? How do we ensure that the decision to sell an organ is made of the individual’s own accord and free will? Will legalizing the sale of human organs really cause the black market to shut down?


Infographic obtained from: Medical Bioethics – WordPress – Organ Trafficking 

Some will argue that legalizing the sale of human organs will not affect the prosperity of the black market – the poor continue to be uneducated and thus ignorant of the cost and consequences of such an operation, or perhaps they will simply continue to be controlled against their will, much like a pimp with child prostitutes. Such endeavors are dehumanizing really, the way in which people are viewed and treated as objects. Place a price on their organs, and suddenly their value becomes the sum of their parts.

And then there’s the role of the good doctor in all this – there’s got to be someone with an adequate medical understanding to harvest the organs. Surely they know if a middle man is involved, if the ‘donor’ is being coerced. I’m guessing they too make a tidy little profit from coloring outside the lines of the law. How then, do we enforce the law on such operations occurring under the radar? The law exists presumably for the safety of the community, but that doesn’t stop the flourishing of the drug industry or the popularity of brothels. I suppose the straightforward solution is to rely on the conscience and morality of the doctor, although considering the greediness of human nature that may be a risk.

If we can’t stop organ sale on the black market, isn’t the next best thing to attempt to control it? Standardize a price, standardize the procedure, standardize the medical acceptability of the organ. That said, there are inevitable complications. This is the way I see it: legalizing the sale of human organs will have both positive and negative consequences. On the upside, the availability of human organs will increase, subsequently lower numbers of the waiting list, more lives are saved. But, it is likely that exploitation of the poor and uneducated for their organs will continue, or even increase if the legalization of such operations were to occur.

So, do we withhold the literal chance of a lifetime to the fatally ill, or continue to try and protect the vulnerable and ignorant? The debate may conclude not with a win-win resolution, but rather the selection in the lesser of two evils.


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