Measuring organ incentives

Kidneys for Sale


Arthur Caplan, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, is against legalizing the sale of kidneys because "the only people who would sell are the poor people," an argument frequently made by opponents of opening up organ markets. But a new study by University of Pennsylvania physician and bioethicist Scott Halpern casts doubt on this assumption.

In a survey of 342 Philadelphia commuters, reported in the March Annals of Internal Medicine, Halpern found that the number of people who said they would provide a kidney to a stranger doubled when they were offered money for the organ. But the poor were not more susceptible to the offer than the wealthy were. "The influence that a $10,000 incentive had on people earning more than $100,000 a year," Halpern reports, "was equal to the influence of the same $10,000 incentive on people earning less than $20,000 a year."

Unfortunately, the results are hypothetical. Buying and selling organs remains illegal, and more than 84,000 Americans remain on the waiting list for a new kidney.