Response on Whether Organs Should be Purchased and Sold-BECKER
Sorry for this delay in responding about organ markets, but I have been tied up with other matters. On the whole the comments led to a very sophisticated discussion, with a minimal number of personal attacks. Let me respond briefly.
Barter arrangements like LifeSharers may well improve the present transplant system, but they have all the disadvantages of barter. That is why money and markets have replaced barter throughout the world.
I indicated that opt out systems do not have a large effect on organ donations. The reason is mainly that family members often overrule the implied wishes of their deceased relatives. I suspect that many people do not take the effort to opt out because they expect their parents or children to have the ultimate say.
A common concern among the critics is that the poor will both give too many of their organs, and not have access to transplants. I have more confidence than these critics do in the ability of the vast majority of poor people to make decisions in their self-interest. Moreover, market forces rather than rich persons would determine the price of organs, in the same way that rich people do not presently set the price of maid services.
Most organ transplants are paid by private insurance, Medicaid, or Medicare. Since that would continue, and since I indicated that market-determined organ prices are unlikely to add much to the total cost of transplants, the poor should not be at more of a disadvantage in getting transplants if organs were sold than they are under the present system. Indeed, they are likely to be at less of a disadvantage when the supply of organs clears the demand for organs. For the rich and famous sometimes can now use influence to get priority, and they can travel to countries where they are assured of getting a transplant.
Someone argued for a tax on people who do not agree to make their organs available rather than a price clearing market in organs. Taxing is an alternative way to clear the organ market, and also the markets for steel, apples, and other products as well. The rich would have far more influence over the setting of the magnitude and form of these taxes than they would in the determination of organ prices that raise supply to equal demand. Minimizing the use of force and other government powers in determining supply is a general advantage of market determination of prices that fully applies to organs.
At least one of you claimed that the price of organs would be high because of the so-called "endowment" affect, while others thought it would be too "low" because the poor would be duped. It cannot be both, and I believe it would be neither, partly for the reasons in the post and above.
Many decisions in life have important elements of irreversibility in the sense that the cost of reversing may be either infinite or very large. These include going to law school, marrying a particular person, joining the armed forces for several years, etc. The irreversibility of organ donation for a live transplant will make people consider that issue carefully. The present system is in this regard worst since often family members are pressured into making quick decisions about providing organs for live transplants because their relatives would die if they did not get a transplant, and they cannot expect an organ soon, given their place on the queue.
I have been at several international conferences of transplant surgeons, and have argued there for markets in organs. While I believe most but far from all of these surgeons oppose such a change, they all recognize the very serious problems with the present system. Surgeons and hospitals fight sometimes over who has access to available organs, they see many patients die because they cannot get organs, and they often must perform a transplant surgery at a time that is not optimal for a person receiving the transplant because a matching organ becomes available at a particular moment.
So I believe much more of the concern expressed in some comments should relate to persons in need of transplants who either die because they cannot get them, or wait for years in ill-health before they receive suitable organs.