Organ Trade is Moral
by Francois Tremblay (e-mail: [October 30th, 2002]

In a free society, organ trade should not be a problem. We should be free to do whatever we want with our body, and even sell organs if desired. It is the most noble and fundamental right that each human being has. Unfortunately, the Drug Prohibition proves that our governments do not uphold this right.

“The state does not recognize the person's right to his own body, but rather that his body must be subject of the state's well-being.”

Likewise, the Organ Prohibition is an attack on our right to our body. In a meaningful way, we are held hostage by the state in the name of human dignity. Such an absurd contradiction is difficult to resolve, but it is a consequence of statist power.

Death by Democracy

In the United States, 75 000 people are languishing on waiting lists for organs, and at least five thousand will die on it every year (in 1988, only 16 000 were on the waiting lists, and the number has grown ever since). The biggest problem is kidney shortages, as 40 000 people are waiting for one. The same situation prevails in Canada, where 3 500 people wait for organs every year and approximately one-quarter of them will die while waiting.

This shortage has dire consequences as people seek to solve their situation by resorting to the black market. Desperate people who get operated in other countries run the risk of infections, fraud, and even death. These operations cost between 50 000 and 100 000$CAN. Even urban legends have cropped up around stories of tourists having their kidneys forcibly removed and waking up in the bathtub surrounded by ice, entering common lore.

These facts do not reconcile with the idea of a healthy organ system. If demand was met with supply, there would be no need for long waiting lists or a black market. Where do these problems come from ? Mainly the National Organ Transplant Act, passed in 1984, which prohibits the purchase or sale of human organs. The situation is similar in Canada with the Human Tissue Gift Act (section 3.10). By restricting the ways by which people can trade organs, they have affected the supply of organs, which is lagging behind - while 80% of organ demands were fulfilled in 1988, only 45% were fulfilled in 1995 (Reason Magazine).

How has the state tried to solve the problem ? By loosening regulations ? Well, no, that would be too obvious and non-politically-motivated. Rather, they try to appeal to our altruism by drumming up support for donations. But this approach is doomed to failure. People do not respond to such appeals unless they imply some sort of personal benefit. This is not a judgment of worth but simple fact of perceived self-interest.

On the other hand, organ trade would not only be in one's perceived self-interest in some cases, but be truly beneficial. It would permit donors, if alive to get money, and if dead to leave money to their family. The money involved in the organ system is around 8 billion dollars annually. Yet the only person who cannot share in this system, and who in fact can be fined for doing so, is the donor. This is statist "fairness" at its finest !

The simple act of reestablishing the freedom of the people would greatly help to solve this acute health problem, but of course the collectivist outlook that regulates the organ system cannot admit such thinking. The state does not recognize the person's right to his own body, but rather that his body must be subject of the state's well-being. Given this, it is more favourable for the state to pursue a policy of regulation and hope that future technology will be able to close the gap, rather than help lives right now and risk political disagreement. But future technologies can only guarantee future progress, not the present.

The Organ Prohibition

Various arguments have been mounted against the notion of organ trade. They mainly occupy two categories, economical and ethical.

The economical arguments revolve around income disparity which, according to critics, would become even more acute. But the concrete reasoning behind this contradicts itself from critic to critic. Some say that organ selling would go against the poor because they would not be able to access transplant procedures, and some say that it would result in the poor selling body parts for the rich.

Not only is this contradictory, but also makes no sense. There is no reason why the poor would not have access to medical procedures any more than they do today, and indeed no reason to take away the donation procedure already in place, as long as the free market is also free to operate. Furthermore, although it is hypothesized that prices for kidneys would be 50 000$ or even 100 000$, competition would no doubt reduce that sum. Also, it is not certain how changing the idea of organ selling to a class issue makes it any less palatable, unless we are going on sheer prejudice - it is a circular argument.

Not only do economical arguments not make sense, but the growth of organ trade would have obvious benefits in the medical sector, especially with the growing demands in dialysis. Some experts say that if kidneys could be found for all the patients now on dialysis, American Medicare would break even after just two years.

There are also two main ethical arguments : the argument from the sanctity of altruism, and the argument against commodification. The first argues that organ donation should be a purely altruistic affair, and that to bring trade in the equation pollutes the organ system's ideal. I have already discussed what to think of such a line of reasoning.

The second is more interesting and related to the whole notion of human dignity. Basically, organ trade "reduces" the human body to a commodity. It is simply asserted that this is bad and hurts human dignity. But when seen rationally, one realizes that this is a vacuous argument. As I said in an article on cloning, how dignified is it for the state to own our body and to control what we can do with it ? It is unclear, to say the least, why owning our own body is less dignified than this alternative. I suppose that we should, once again, be in awe at how "fair" this all is.

Commodification should not be seen as a problem. Quite the contrary, commodification is a strong point of capitalism, in that it makes things valuable, and benefits everyone. It opens a way for freedom of choice and the dynamics of freedom. Without commodification, beneficial exchange cannot take place and we are forced into centralized control and stagnation. This is true in all domains, be it food, culture, or organs.

There were all kinds of arguments given for the Alcohol Prohibition, and even today for the Drug Prohibition. The fact is that both have never worked and will never work, and only breed black markets, with the high prices, criminality and diseases that this accompanies. The Organ Prohibition is not working either. The message should be clear : taking away our most vital freedom does not help anyone except politicians. Unfortunately, we have yet to understand that lesson.


  • Organ Keeper: Website
  • Ogan Selling: Website

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