The Volokh Conspiracy

Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent

Kidney Donations


I recently learned that my colleague and Dean, Jennifer Mnookin, donated a kidney to her father, Harvard law professor Bob Mnookin; my hat would be off to her, if I wore a hat, and I'm delighted to hear that both daughter and father are doing well.

This also reminded me that my longtime friend and recent guest-blogger, Virginia Postrel, had donated a kidney 15 years ago to her friend Sally Satel (who as it happens was cited in a post here last week). Again, hat off to Virginia.

I have long thought that people should be compensated for kidney donations (and that heirs should be compensated for post mortem donations). Put a $0 cap on a scarce good, and unsurprisingly you get a shortage—as to kidneys, an often deadly shortage. I have even argued that there should be a constitutional right, stemming from the right to self-defense, to pay for kidneys, sections of livers, and the like (see my 2007 Harvard Law Review Article, Medical Self-Defense, Prohibited Experimental Therapies, and Payment for Organs). But whatever you might think of the constitutional argument, I think the policy argument for a properly run system of payments is very strong.

But in the meantime, I think we should appreciate those who donate their kidneys, and celebrate the scientific and medical advances (which would have been mind-boggling, if we hadn't gotten used to them) that allow these operations to work, generally with great success and very few side effects.