Visceral Reaction


New at Reason: This is a very true story. After covering the recent COP9 conference in Milan, Ron Bailey woke up in his hotel room in a tub of ice, with a note telling him to call the cops. That's what's got him wondering whether technology and the free market might provide the key to heading off the organ black market.

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  1. I hope that people will overcome their discomfort with the sale of organs. Lots of lives would be saved if people would stop enacting laws against things because they feel uncomfortable with them.

  2. Larry Nivien’s writings shape a pretty scary future where organs are harvested from criminals, and everything for jaywalking to false advertising is punished with the death penalty to keep up with the citizen’s demands for organs.

  3. That’s right, Ira. Ron, it’s not ‘organ bootlegging’, it’s “organlegging” 🙂

  4. I think that the biggest problem here is the notion that “lots of lives would be saved, if only…” In many cases, this is a good introduction to an argument as to why government should simply butt out. For instance, “lots of lives would be saved (or, at least, not ruined), if only we would end drug prohibition.” In the case of organ markets, however, I do think that government has 1) no right to tell people they CANNOT engage in such transactions; but also 2) a role in ascertaining the absolute voluntary nature of organ sales and in prohibiting and harshly punishing any INVOLUNTARY or even mildly coercive organ transactions.

    Unfortunately the “lots of lives to be saved” notion soon seems to beget notions that people who won’t give up their organs are somehow being selfish or greedy, and that their evil attitudes contribute directly to an “organ deficit.” In other words, that people who need organs are somehow entitled to them, Eventually, that line of rationale ultimately turns into the kind of nightmarish, cannibalistic situation that Niven and others have described. Don’t say that their fears are unrealistic hyperbole: in a country where you can be prosecuted for having an ashtray in your office, anything is possible. Consider that we are leaning heavily on those who indulge in harmful habits (such as smoking and drinking, e.g.) as much to lower shared healthcare costs as for any other reason. When marketplace transactions in organs are commonplace, doesn’t it stand to reason that, in order to curb healthcare costs, we will use the coercive power of the laws to discourage or even punish lifestyle choices that can lower the quality of or reduce the supply of marketable organs? Think about that.

    Perhaps if draconian punishment can be inflicted for even a whiff of coercion on the part of the organ purchaser (once proven in court, of course), that might deter most ghouls. What do others think?

  5. Organ donation will become much less of an issue when the cloning laws are loosened and we spend a couple decades of research on growing organs independent of entire clones (or at least just growing anencephalic clones to be harvested). Perfect donor match, no rejection problems, no lifetime of rejection drug side effects.

  6. My dad is in the final steps of the process of donating a kidney to a family friend. I have found two things particularly interesting:

    (1) State Medicare (Missouri) pays for all of his tests and his hospital stay, even though he has his own insurance; and
    (2) Most people think he’s absolutely nuts to be giving up a kidney. Nearly all say “well, if it were my kid or my brother, then I’d do it.”

    As to number one, I guess it is a small comfort that the state is somehow working to encourage organ donation, even if it is using big bad Medicare dollars. As to number two, I think it is just a natural reaction for people to be resistant to the idea of a living organ donor except in the most dire of circumstances. Whether that resistance is the cause or effect of the blanket prohibition on the sale of organs is up for debate.

  7. James, what you allude to leads to the scenario when organ donation won’t be an option, it will become your legal obligation. Your organs WILL be used for transplants, no matter what your or your family’s wishes are. This of course will increase supply of organs, reducing costs. And an increase in snitching on “organ abusers”.

    If this becomes your obligation, meaning your organs are only on loan, the demand for transplants will surely increase. But the beneficiaries of that will be the doctors who perform the transplants because their scarcity will not be allowed to rise to the demand of organ transplants. So the organs will be “free”, but the surgery will cost an arm and a leg.

    The other benficiaries will be the Organ Purity Police who respond to the snitchers. However, any one bad habit will likely reduce your life span, which will ultimately bring organs to market sooner, so I can see where the government may allow certain behaviors that are currently outlawed in the guise of reducing organ hoarding. So I forsee and Organ Indulgence Board where, at the age of majority, you make a federal claim on ONE (1) vice or “organ jeopardization”. In which case you can choose either smoking (lungs), drinking (liver), anal sex (colon), television (brain), etc. Naturally, elected officials are exempt from the program.

  8. All these convoluted “possible” nightmare scenarios… the first step is to remove the coercive restrictions against the selling of organs and deal with the negative side effects when and if they come about.

    I don’t think these proposed scenarios have much credibility, but even if they do, the overall effect of removal of anti-market organ laws will be overwhelmingly positive.

  9. Andy D says, “All these convoluted ‘possible’ nightmare scenarios… I don’t think these proposed scenarios have much credibility…”

    Twenty or thirty years ago, I might have agreed with you. But nearly every extreme exaggeration of the “if this goes on…” type that I read in Mad magazine or saw on Saturday Night Live has pretty much come true by now. For me, the last straw was to hear that people in NYC were being cited and fined for having ash trays in their offices. And — to mix metaphors — that’s just the tip of the present iceberg.

    I have no doubt that, absent careful thought and deliberate effort to the contrary and perhaps even in spite of it, the nightmare scenarios will come to pass. It’s not a matter of if, but when.

    I am also hoping for the success of organ cloning/regeneration technology, so we don’t have to institutionalize cannibalism. I really don’t see how the latter can avoid any number of nightmare scenarios, regardless of how many people are “saved.” It would be better if we didn’t have to go there…

  10. “It would be better if we didn’t have to go there…”

    Indeed it would be better if harvesting organs from human beings were unnecessary. It would be nice if we could grow organs in a petri dish, or harvest them from pigs; but that technology might be decades away. In the meantime, dismantling bad laws would do a lot of good.

    Your thesis seems to be: A lot of crazy shit has happened and therefore ~anything~ is possible. Because of this, we should shy away from changing the status quo towards increased liberty, because it ~might~ have the opposite effect somehow.

    Has your spirit really been broken so thoroughly?

  11. Tim Cavanaugh wrote:

    “New at Reason: This is a very true story. After covering the recent COP9 conference in Milan, Ron Bailey woke up in his hotel room in a tub of ice, with a note telling him to call the cops.”

    That was not a very true story. That was a very false story.

    Maybe I’m being too game or gullible, but when a journalist writes “this is a very true story” and then tells a lie, I get pissed off. There’s no humor involved here. It’s not obvious satire. It’s just a lie.

    Can somebody help me out here? Am I missing something?

  12. Slippery Pete, this urban legend is mentioned in the linked article. If you’ve read the article, you’ll see it clearly as a joke.

  13. $1,000,000.00 U.S. buys my kidney.

  14. Andy,

    There are two restrictions already in place: one against the selling of organs, and the other against the buying of organs.

    In a free market, organ exchanges or brokerages would exist, not unlike a stock exchange. If you wanted to sell a kidney at $1 million, you’d place a put on the market and see if there are any calls out there. I’m sure there’d be organ futures, too.

    But that’s all moot if the number of buyers is restricted to hospitals and the government. Reduce the buyers, you’ll reduce demand, lowering the price. Reduce the number of organs on the market, you’ll raise the price.

    And that’s ignoring the cost of the removal/transplanting operations themselves.

  15. Pete, the word “very” is a tipoff. Who says “very true?”

  16. I’ll sell a kidney…mine…type O, ask for details…

  17. kidney for sale! serious adults please.
    $price negotiable.

  18. EMAIL:
    DATE: 05/20/2004 11:02:55
    Some things cannot be taught, only discovered.

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