A few weeks ago panelists at the American Enterprise Institute urged that changes be made in the current organ donation system. Last week, the President’s Council on Bioethics began discussions on this same topic. At the heart of these conversations is the very real and urgent critical shortage of available organs for transplant patients. People are dying while they wait for someone to give them the gift of life. And we need to earnestly look at ways to increase organ donation and organ sharing between those in need and those with healthy organs. But I take huge issue with the solutions the panelists at AEI recommend.

The solutions proposed are nothing new. Money, they say, is the solution to solving the organ shortage. Cash incentives such as tax credits and deductions, college scholarships for the children of the donor, guaranteed health insurance, or just plain old cash are the answer.

Newt Gingrich, one of the panelists, said, “Well meaning people have created a well-meaning monopoly.” Those well meaning people to whom Mr. Gingrich refers are those at the National Kidney Foundation and the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS). Charles Fruit, chairman of the National Kidney Foundation believes that paying people or their families for their organs will be offensive to those who have already donated organs. UNOS supports legislation which encourages donation as well as honors those who have donated. Note the emphasis has been and needs to be on the word, donation. Donation means a gift, without compensation. No strings attached.

Sally Satel, a physician and resident scholar with AEI and herself a recipient of an organ transplant, said on the panel that she would have “gladly paid for a kidney” if the law allowed it. She considered being a transplant tourist, traveling to another country in search of a kidney for purchase but fortunately for her, a friend donated a kidney to her.

Finally, Benjamin Hippen, a nephrologist who specializes in renal transplantation praised the markets as the mechanism to solve the shortage, stating, “the genius of markets is they allow like-minded people to cooperate with each other.” By like-minded, does Dr. Hippen mean, I have something you want so let’s make a deal?

But what about those who are waiting on the list and don’t have the financial means to cooperate with those like-minded people? Don’t worry because the panel of experts and scholars assure us that “allowing financial incentives–perhaps with certain regulations in place–would increase the number of organs available AND (emphasis mine) reduce waiting times.” The waiting lines are for those who can’t afford to buy their organ and need to depend on the benevolence of others. Let me get this straight. You can either give your kidney to a poor person or you can sell it to the highest bidder. And they think that is a winning combination to increase the available organs and reduce waiting time? If you believe that, I have a bridge I’d like to sell you.

Author Profile

Jennifer Lahl, CBC Founder
Jennifer Lahl, CBC Founder
Jennifer Lahl, MA, BSN, RN, is founder and president of The Center for Bioethics and Culture Network. Lahl couples her 25 years of experience as a pediatric critical care nurse, a hospital administrator, and a senior-level nursing manager with a deep passion to speak for those who have no voice. Lahl’s writings have appeared in various publications including Cambridge University Press, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Dallas Morning News, and the American Journal of Bioethics. As a field expert, she is routinely interviewed on radio and television including ABC, CBS, PBS, and NPR. She is also called upon to speak alongside lawmakers and members of the scientific community, even being invited to speak to members of the European Parliament in Brussels to address issues of egg trafficking; she has three times addressed the United Nations during the Commission on the Status of Women on egg and womb trafficking.