Though perhaps it shouldn’t have, my mind was partially blown a few years ago when I read the book written by Cato Institute health policy experts Michael Cannon and Michael Tanner, Healthy Competition. In it, there is a section describing the economics of organ donations and how organ shortages are entirely created by the government. How?
Well, it’s not the case that the government is keeping us all so safe that there aren’t any available organ donors. Rather, it is because there is a price ceiling for organs: $0. That is, there is no legal way to accept something of monetary value in exchange for organs. Cannon and Tanner’s argument is that, but for such price controls, there would be no shortages.
This recent video from Reason provides support for such a contention:
If it’s the case that the most needed organ transplant is kidneys, an organ most people can give up and still survive, then it’s not the case that most organ donors have to be waiting around, reluctantly hoping that someone has a fatal accident that leaves their precious organs intact. Thus, it’s more plausible to believe that organ shortages are, indeed, artificial.
Cannon and Tanner also address the rationale behind the prohibition of monetary exchanges for organs. It is supposedly the case that allowing such wealth transfers would deny the dignity of individual life. Furthermore, it would be another way to exploit the poor if organs could be exchanged for money (and that only the rich would have access to organs).
In regards to the first contention, one ought to ask, which alternative shows more respect for the dignity of life? The one that allows life to be extended through the transfer of money or the one that forces people to die in the name of making sure money isn’t being exchanged for life-sustaining organs? The answer seems obvious to me.
Secondly, are the poor more exploited by receiving money for organs that they voluntarily give or when they are forced to receive nothing in return for such tremendous value? And I’m not sure it’s much of a consolation to know that the rich bastard behind you on the organ waiting list is going to die too. Here we have yet another case where human well being is sacrificed upon the altar of egalitarianism. But I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion that under such a free market health care system that the poor would be worse off (really, how could they be?). Health insurance provided on the free market would likely be specifically for such catastrophic medical emergencies, rather than routine procedures, and would therefore be much more affordable than under the current regime. Furthermore, plans would more likely be purchased by individuals rather than by employers, making it so that one’s insurance is not dependent upon one’s job.
Lastly, I don’t think allowing markets in organ transfers would increase black market organ activity but do just the opposite. Wouldn’t it be nice to say goodbye to waking up in bathtubs full of ice?