Should Selling Organs be Illegal? (Not a Halachic Debate)

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    Do you think it is the place of government to outlaw the sale of organs?

    Here are an editorial and an interesting little nugget on the subject

    Daniel Akst

    Law enforcement authorities have arrested an alleged dealer in forbidden commodities, and the condemnations are flying thick and fast. What is the dastardly crime with which this individual is charged? Saving people’s lives by bringing together buyers and sellers of kidneys.

    It’s illegal in the USA to buy or sell organs for transplant. This is an unjust law made and enforced by people who desperately need neither organs nor money. It condemns kidney-disease sufferers to death and potential organ donors to poverty. It’s a law that I will unhesitatingly break if one of my children needs a kidney, and I hope you will have the decency to do the same if a member of your family is in a similar situation.

    The AP story I linked to above discusses some of the ills that supposedly flow from a market in organs. It quotes a medical ethicist at my own alma mater arguing that it’s better for people to die than buy organs:

    “There is a black market, almost exclusively in kidneys,” Caplan said. “All international medical groups and governments ought to condemn any marketing in body parts. It’s simply too exploitative of the poor and vulnerable. The quality of the organs is questionable. People lie to get the money. The middle men are irresponsible and often criminals. They don’t care about the people who sell.”

    Yet it seems to me that all these supposed problems (none of which deterred the defendant’s alleged kidney-patient clients) are the result of the ridiculous prohibition on organ sales. The middle men, for example, are only criminals because of the stupid law, just as sellers of bourbon were during Prohibition. The lying is also related to the ban. A legal, regulated and transparent market could solve the problems of exploitation and organ quality. The huge buy/sell price spread apparent in Mr. Rosenbaum’s alleged operation would collapse if the risk, subterfuge and bribery were taken out of the trade.

    The unearned piety of those who condemn these transactions strikes me as outrageous. If someone has the right to abort her own fetus, why does she not have the right to sell her own kidney? By what authority does the state tell me I cannot save myself or my family members by paying money I earned to a willing seller of a surplus item? In fact, why wouldn’t a system of national health insurance include a provision for organ purchases? These transactions should not just be legal for the rich but subsidized for the poor, all in a carefully designed and closely regulated marketplace serving buyers, sellers and even medical ethicists. It’s a shame that even one more person has to die before this law is changed.


    In 1988 Iran became one of the first Nations to permit and regulate payment and other incentives for living donor transplants.

    This has eliminated the need for a waiting list for kidney transplants in Iran.

    Concerns that this policy would reduce altruistic organ donors have not been validated.


    i fully agree with this editorial. I’ll post additional comments later.


    It absolutely should be made legal. Any and all the ethical concerns that exist now would disappear if it were allowed. As long as it remains in the black market, donors can be murdered for organs (and here I do not refer to the halachic debate about brain death vs. heart death) and you wouldn’t know it, donors can be sick or otherwise unqualified to donate, and you wouldn’t know it. If it were legal and regulated, you immediately lose these problems. The editorial couldn’t have said it better.


    Is it illegal? I thought it was highly regulated “market”.


    If the liberals allow selling marijuana for “medicinal” purposes, why not selling organs for medicinal purposes?


    it should be legal to sell organs but not at the rate of $160,000. Let’s say the poor can’t afford it???????


    The poor can wait for donations. Money buys health care. More equitable than behind-the-scenes bribing to cut the lines. Making it legal but regulated will improve things.


    YOU are right and i am wrong.



    What about the concept in the gemarrah of Mai Chazis. This means who has the right to determine whose life is more valuable than the other. Why should payment be the determining factor of who lives vs. who dies? What about a kollel person, let him die because he can’t afford the price?

    There is a reason why there is a list and registry. It is supervised by doctors who thoroughly analyze which patient stands to benefit medically the most from a transplant. The life expectantcy of the patient (other medical conditions, age, etc.)are factors in the placement on the list. Nowhere on the list is there a wealth factor.

    For a Jew to say “The poor can wait for donations”, and “Money buys healthcare” is a disgraceful attitude. Money SHOULD have no place in deciding value of a persons life.

    The Wolf

    All we should do is have the National Center for Organ Donations pay a set fee for each donated organ. This will increase the number of organs available for donation and will decrease the waiting list. They can continue to give out the organs the same way they currently do.

    Those who wish to bequeath their organs will receive less than those who donate during their lifetime. This set fee will come out of the pocket of the recipient.

    I believe that currently, one is not even put on the waiting list if they do not have the ability to pay for the procedure.

    The Other Wolf


    artchill, in a perfect world you would be right. But this isn’t a perfect world. Altruism doesn’t exist as much as it should. The kollel guy on Medicaid is not getting the same level of service as the exec with the platinum health plan. There is a reason why people in countries with socialized medicine come to the US to get top-notch care.

    Furthermore, there is a shortage of organs because nobody wants to donate. Money will raise the supply and ease the shortage, making it easier on everyone. I will never be rich, and If I C”V ever need an organ, I will be waiting in line with the poor. But the line will move more quickly if it’s shorter.


    I think this might be a nice addition to the discussion. Here is an editorial from the Boston Globe (by: JEFF JACOBY, printed on July 5th of this year) about the liver transplant received by Apple CEO Steve Jobs.

    Apparently, the only thing his money enabled him to do was to register on the transplant waiting list at numerous locations in the USA.

    Yet when it comes to the donation of human organs, countless people believe that the market must be prevented from functioning.

    The result of our misguided altruism-only organ donation system is much the same: too few organs and too much death. More than 100,000 Americans are currently on the national organ waiting list. Last year, 28,000 transplants were performed, but 49,000 new patients were added to the queue. As the list grows longer, the wait grows deadlier, and the shortage of available organs grows more acute. Last year, 6,600 people died while awaiting the kidney or liver or heart that could have kept them alive. Another 18 people will die today. And another 18 tomorrow. And another 18 every day, until Congress fixes the law that causes so many valuable organs to be wasted, and so many lives to be needlessly lost.


    artchill: If you think that president obama-for example- will wait in line to get a transplant, or that ,say, george soros (another great liberal) will wait in line to get a transplant, then you are even more naive than I think. The fact is -as jothar writes- that there are many inequalities in health care and that with money you can surely buy better health care. Not totally right, maybe, but still the facts of life. The liberal intention is to dumb everything DOWN so that everyone has BAD healthcare.

    BTW- “mah chozis” is only applicable when someone dies ,then we say “mah chozis” .I never heard it to be appplied to other matters, including better health care.


    There are many good reason why it is illegal and why it should stay illegal. People wouldnt be on such long waiting lists if more people were organ donors.This goes for jewish people too. It is not against halacha to donate organs. For some reason the majority of frum jews think it is. We let people die while perfectly good organs go to waste when a person dies. I would like one person to quote me a place in the torah where it says that it is prohibited


    zevi, I have read your response, however you have not explained why it is illegal and why it should stay illegal.

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