Let's Put Organs on the Free Market
By Thomas L. Knapp
Originally published as a TAWM Special and in The Springfield News-Leader as "Paying families for organs would increase donations."

The News-Leader reports that "too many people die waiting for an organ donation" ("Don't fear organ donation," November 3), and suggests that responsibility lies with our "reticence to talk openly and become informed about what is an admittedly queasy subject." That may be part of the problem, but the News-Leader, like other commentators, avoids discussing one obvious and eminently practical solution.

The transplant patient or insurance company pays the doctor who performs the operation, the anesthetist who makes it bearable, the pharmaceutical company that manufactures drugs to ensure the new organ isn't rejected, and any number of other parties who provide goods or services to make the transplant possible. Everyone gets paid -- except for the survivors of the donor.

None of the aforementioned parties performs their work solely out of well-intentioned concern for the health of the patient. They all expect to be compensated. Yet the spouse, parents or children of a recently deceased accident victim are expected to hand over the heart, liver, kidneys or corneas of their loved one as a gift.

There is, of course, some merit in doing so. A lot of people will "sell" their organs or the organs of their loved ones in return for the "payment" of gratitude and the knowledge that they've helped another.

But how many more would take the necessary steps to become organ donors if they knew that doing so would help their survivors make it through the perilous economic times following the death of a family member?

If I offered you a $100,000 "life insurance policy," payable to the beneficiary of your choice, on the condition that you designate your vital organs for transplant use following your death, would you not be more likely to do the paperwork?

At this point in the discussion, I usually run into the objection that the selling of organs is "unethical." Yet no one disputes the right of the physician to pay for her country club membership with fees received for performing the transplant, of the anesthetist for making the monthly car payment from his salary, etc. In what way is it unethical for the recently deceased to have arranged for his or her organs to save a life -- and to make life more bearable or comfortable for his or her loved ones?

A great many people do die every year while waiting for vital organs -- organs that would almost certainly be available in plentiful supply if the prospective donors had an incentive other than good will to motivate their donation.