Should there be an incentive structure in place for the sale of human organs?

This is fourth in an occasional college debate series hosted by Today’s Question where we invite debate clubs to frame and guide the day’s discussion. Positions taken by the debaters don’t necessarily reflect their views. As always, personal attacks aren’t allowed in this space. The comment thread continues to be open to all. Join in!

For this series, we welcome members of the University of Minnesota debate team to defend or challenge the argument for the sale of human organs.

Clayton Carlson

Defending the argument is Clayton Carlson, a senior majoring in political science and global studies at the U.

Legalizing and regulating organ sales in the United States would save lives and respond to the organ shortage while quelling some of the dangerous conditions caused by the illegal organ market.

Compensation for organ donation has always been a contentiously debated issue, but one that has seen increasingly stronger evidence in favor of it over the past few years. Massive organ shortages exist currently and will only get worse as time goes on and solutions to these problems have been unsuccessful at best. Organ donors are few and far between, at only around 17,000 for the over 110,000 people currently awaiting transplants, and someone on the organ donation list dies every 90 minutes. Altruism has clearly not solved the problems of massive organ shortages in the US, but allowing organ sales on the free market might. Studies have shown that compensating donors would massively increase the amount of organ donors in the US while quelling the dangerous illegal market for organs that already exists.

Although there is overwhelming evidence supporting the need for organ sale legalization, many worry about ethics related to the sale of parts of one’s own body. Recent studies, however, show that concerns over exploitation and commodification have little or no merit and are certainly not enough to justify not saving the lives of the people waiting on the registry for a kidney or a heart. The illegal organ market will exist and endanger lives regardless of legalized organ sales, the question isn’t whether or not we should legalize and regulate it, it’s a question of how many lives we are willing to risk while we wait.

Challenging the argument is Faroz Mujir, a senior at the U.

The selling and buying of human organs, though seeming like a plausible way to solve an organ crisis, actually could eventually reduce the net amount of usable organs for transplant and create undeservedly health consequences for those who do sell.

Even if there were to be a market established, there most likely wouldn’t be an increase in the net organs for transplant, due a decrease in willing donations of organs. A selling system creates quality problems, meaning that it is more likely an organ of less-than-transplantable quality may become more likely to be bought and transplanted. This type of economic system prevents a charitable one from existing, which destroys the noble bond that is built, drawing people together.

This type of market would additionally likely put the most pressure on the poor. Most participants in organ sales are underpaid and post surgery, their care is lacking. Interviews done in Chennai India indicated that 75% of participants whom sold organs to pay off debts, remained in debt, and 95% of participants indicates that their health deteriorated after selling1. In 2001 in Iran, it was demonstrated that many organ sales were practiced with coercion and blackmail2. With a massive need in the industrialized world, the inevitable organ sales after exhausting domestic markets, would come from the developing world, breeding the exploitation of the economic unequal underprivileged. The presence of a middleman is duly felt, with the potential of collusion at the surgeon, nephrologist, and regulatory level.

It is important that society initiates this conversation with knowledge of its obligation towards compassion for all patients.