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How Much For That Kidney In The Window?
Cash for your kidney? Why not?

What's wrong with selling your organs? I don't have a problem with it, and neither does Virginia Postrel -- who, by the way, just donated one to a friend:

Kidney patients literally live or die by where they are on the waiting list. While getting progressively sicker, they must spend several hours at least three times a week hooked up to a dialysis machine, the kidney-disease equivalent of an iron lung (it prolongs your life but imposes a physically debilitating prison sentence).

Increasing the supply of deceased donors, while desirable, is difficult — organ donors have to die healthy and in exactly the right circumstances. But even if every eligible cadaver were harvested, it wouldn't fill the gap. We need more kidney donors, lots more. And they need to be alive.

Unfortunately, our laws and culture discourage healthy people from donating organs, as I learned this spring when I gave a kidney to a friend.

My parents were appalled. My doctor told me, "You know you can change your mind." Many people couldn't understand why I didn't at least wait until my friend had been on dialysis for a while.

This pervasive attitude not only pressures donors to back out, it shapes policies that deter them. Some transplant centers require intrusive, demeaning psychological probes that scare people off. Some bioethicists suspect that donors suffer from a mental disorder, as opposed to being motivated by benevolence or religious conviction.

The scrutiny is particularly nasty when healthy people want to give their organs to strangers — not truly unknown people, mind you, but patients they have gotten to know through Internet sites or press coverage.

Many transplant centers flatly refuse "directed donations" to specific strangers. Some argue that it's "unfair" for patients to jump the queue with personal initiative and an appealing story; others insist that such donors aren't to be trusted (they must be either criminal or crazy). Posters at warn givers to never even mention the Internet, lest their good intentions be thwarted.

Sandra Grijalva, a San Francisco woman with polycystic kidney disease, asked Kaiser officials if she could find a donor online — after having one of her friends disqualified because of high blood pressure. "They said absolutely not," she says. The donor, Kaiser maintained, might someday try to extort money. (So might your cousin, but at least you'd be alive.)

My feeling? It's your body, sell it if you want to. Whether it's by prostitution or piecing it out.

A number of people (friends or acquaintances, particularly), ask me advice about the same problem, over and over. For example, a guy I know with a pretty plum job would always have these women banging on his door at 3 a.m., angry when they figured out all he really wanted was sex. Actually, he wants a girlfriend; he just has a hard time finding one who's beautiful, bright, and non-psycho in New York City.

Of course, I have no problem with people having a little naked, casual fun. It's just that both participants (or all the participants!) should be clear that it's casual fun -- as opposed to casual fun leading to formal...well, formal less naked and less fun.

For years, I told this friend of mine that he was being unethical for fooling these girls and that he should see hookers. Finally...FINALLY!...he took my advice, and called up a Brazilian escort service. He's kinda hot, so he used to pay the woman, but now she sleeps with him for free. Her "pro-bono" client, let's just say. So...if nobody's getting fooled, and everybody's a consenting adult...what could be wrong with that?

By the way, the guy did have one complaint for me: "Why didn't you make me do this sooner?"

P.S. Check out Virginia Postrel's book, The Substance Of Style, and her blog.

Posted by aalkon at June 17, 2006 9:32 AM

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That guy must feel like a real king for getting a professional to sleep with him gratis. Where is her sense of capitalism? Give him a discount, a frequent bedders club card or something.

And on paying for kidney donations--conveniently, I feel about it the same way I feel about prostitution: all things being equal, I'd heavily support the legalization of both. But things in these cases are not equal, and women who choose to sell sex and people who choose to sell organs tend to be folks with other issues who are easily victimized, and it creates sort of this self-feeding societal problem. Now, I know that's all Life Police of me, and I try not to go that route, and maybe there's a solution to my problem with it. Maybe if we legalize these to things, they're less taboo and you can educate participants more and you get things more equal. Maybe. But until I see some evidence of that, it'll still concern me that we just create more problems.

Posted by: Dana at June 17, 2006 12:36 PM

I'll be blunt: who is going to regulate this?

Will this stop trade in illegally-harvested organs? Prostitution is legal in some European countries, but that doesn't seem to have halted the human trade in Nigerian (and other) prostitutes.

Posted by: Radwaste at June 17, 2006 3:32 PM


Aside from the questionable nature of turning human body parts into commodifiable items.... Namely that if it becomes a moneymaking option, those who will most likely be drawn to selling their organs are the poorest among us. The ones who will receive the organs are among the wealthiest among us (with some middle-class individuals with good health insurance no doubt in the mix). Organs are not self-replenishing objects. A person trying to support his or her family may feel obligated to give over what he or she can "live without" so that those who can afford to purchase body parts will then have two, or one, of what they can afford. To many, this is not a morally ethical solution to the lack of available organs.

Posted by: Kitt at June 17, 2006 8:43 PM

Dear Sir/Madam.
I am in need of money. I am unable to take more loan from the market.I wanted to return the money to the people from whom i have taken. so kindly arrange to sell one of my kidney ASAP
Thanks & Regards

Posted by: G.P.Sounderaj at June 26, 2006 2:31 AM

To the question, Who is going to regulate this?, the answer is pretty clear if you know about the transplant system. Unlike two adults having sex, organ transplants require large teams of people in bureaucratic hospitals that are subject to all sorts of scrutiny, including malpractice suits. Private and government insurers also get involved. In other words, in a market for organs there would be lots and lots of oversight, even assuming no specific new regulation. That is not true, however, of the growing practice of "transplant tourism," in which Americans go abroad to find organs from paid vendors. Aside from saving lives of recipients, one of the strongest arguments for a market in organs in the U.S. is that it would provide legal, financial, and medical protections for people who elect to sell their organs.

Posted by: Virginia Postrel at July 2, 2006 11:22 PM

What's wrong if poor people sell their organs? What if selling a kidney can put you through college?

Can there be abuses? Sure, like there can be with anything. But, that doesn't mean we should prohibit everyone from being able to avail themselves of this option, just that we should try to head the abuses off at the pass.

Likewise, some babysitters molest children. Should we...ban babysitting? Or just encourage parents to be careful about whom they hire, and teach them exactly how they might do so?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at July 2, 2006 11:31 PM

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