thanks for the offer, but i’m not in the market, folks.

A few months ago, I wrote a post on my blog about organ donations, in which I outlined my arguments for legalizing selling one’s organs.

At no point did I even hint that I was actually in the market for a kidney, but the title of the post (“For Sale: One Kidney, Gently Used”) has pegged the Googles in some parts of the world.  Now I receive one or two emails a week from people offering me their kidneys for sale.  Most of them come from India (eight so far), but I also had one from Lithuania, one from Russia, and one from Kazakhstan.  Asking prices run from $50,000 to $250,000, with the majority solidly in the $100-200k bracket.

Some will see this as a sad testimony to the exploitation of the Third World by us evil capitalist First-Worlders, but I see it as a lesson in economics.  Where there’s a market, there will be buyers…and where there’s a huge perceived profit, there will be sellers.  This applies to any in-demand commodity: food, fuel, drugs, guns, and even organs.

You may say these people are desperate and exploitable, but everybody falls into that category when the numbers are right.  A quarter million dollars is an unimaginable fortune in a country where the average annual income is about $500.

Think about it, and imagine the same offer scaled to your annual income: would you give up one of your kidneys if someone in some far-off rich country was willing to pay you ten million bucks for it?

And how exactly would that kind of income source and wealth transfer be a bad thing for India?  Sure, you’re more likely to get sick and die if you have a kidney missing, but would you take that risk in exchange for not only being able to afford all the health care you need, but also to provide for your entire extended family for the rest of their lives?

But apparently, it’s morally preferable for them to live in poverty instead and die at thirty-five from working at the fireworks factory, and it’s much more moral for the thousands of people dying on organ waiting lists every year to just wait their turn in the Altruism Lottery.  Wouldn’t want the whole equation contaminated by profit

(To reiterate for my readers in the non-English speaking world:  I am not presently, nor have I ever been, in the market for a kidney, or any other body part.)

24 thoughts on “thanks for the offer, but i’m not in the market, folks.

  1. […] Apparently, you get offers for your organs. […]

  2. CrankyProf says:

    Well, Hell. I only have one damn kidney. If I knew it was THAT easy to get ahold of one…

  3. ChrisB says:

    Marko,

    As far as leftists go it’s one of those burn the village in order to save it things, the truth is that they don’t give a damn about helping poor people, that’s simply the excuse to eliminate the wealthy. In my experience the crunchiest hippies that talk about peace/love etc are actually the most hateful and aggressive people I have ever encountered, all you have to do is scratch a little bit and they’ll show their true colors.

    BTW, per your inquiry, I have a line on a liver from a 26yr old non-smoking male from the Fillipines at only 52.5k, get back to me ASAP because this one will move quick.

  4. pdb says:

    I think more people would check off the organ donor card on their drivers licenses if their families would get $5-10k towards a funeral, or an annuity for their kids.

  5. Somehow, somewhere, there’s some comedy to be had by mashing up the “I’m from the Third world and I’ll sell you my kidney” emails with your run of the mill 419 scam. I just don’t think I could pull it off myself.

  6. ParatrooperJJ says:

    Should have tried this when I was looking for a liver!

  7. It also comes a lot less extreme than organs, like surogate mothers:
    http://mglv.blogspot.com/2007/12/commercial-surrogacy-on-rise.html

  8. Tam says:

    Shit, you can have one of my kidneys for a quarter million dollars. Make it an even Three hundred thou and I’ll toss in a finger or something.

    Even with the exchange rate pegged at 1IN$ to 1NH$, that seems okay.

  9. E says:

    If kidneys are (only) for sale, only rich people will have kidneys.
    You can help the healthy sellers, but what about the dying receivers?
    What is our moral obligation to make organs available in this case?
    I think the troublesome idea is that a price gets put on the life being saved.
    That’s an idea that is tricky to sell, so to speak.

    Is there a compromise scenario?
    It seems cruel in this case for the free market be the only venue.

    Suppose an organ donor registration could specify the price at which the organ is made available (free to $1b). Who ensures that the poor get a crack at altruistically priced organs?
    Maybe you have the option to donate your organs to a bank which distributes them to people in need who can’t afford to pay market prices. Your estate gets a tax write-off or something. This would encourage those who can afford to sell at $0 an incentive to make organs available cheaply.
    Just thinking out loud.

    -E

  10. Marko says:

    Careful, E. Exchange the word “organs” in your argument for “bread” or “gasoline” or any other commodity, and you’re more than halfway down the ideological path to communism.

    We have a moral obligation to make organs available? Since when?

    If I have a kidney I want to sell, and my neighbor has the asked amount in hand to buy it, at what point do you get the right to butt in and tell us what we can and cannot buy or sell between the two of us?

    “It seems cruel in this case for the free market be the only venue.”

    I’m sure that makes the relatives of the people who died while on organ waiting lists feel all warm and fuzzy…that their sacrifice was necessary to ensure a fair system.

    People already make money on organ transplants. Everyone gets paid along the way: the extracting surgeon, the organ transport company, the patient’s surgeon, the hospital staff, and even the janitor who mops the floor in the operating room. Everyone gets paid, except the owner of the commodity that’s being traded.

  11. steve says:

    This entire topic was exhaustively examined by Larry niven in his “Gil the Arm” series several decades ago. Do a Google search on “organ-legger.”

  12. perlhaqr says:

    Steve: I’ve read everything Niven has ever written, and I don’t recall a single mention of people being allowed to sell their own organs, actually. So, “exhaustively” doesn’t quite cover it. Quite a bit of coverage of black-market organ thieves, and the government making “organ bank” the punishment for every crime, though.

  13. MarkHB says:

    *ponders*

    You’re in a third-world nation, and you’ve got the opportunity to sell a redundant-ish part of your anatomy for enough money to move to a first-world nation, educate yourself, earn a tonne of cash off your nest-egg and…

    ….buy a new kidney, giving someone else from your home country the same chance.

    Did I miss something? How is this immoral?

  14. emdfl says:

    Heinlien also addressed this in the Lazerus Long series of stories -in a much darker way IIRC.

  15. MarkHB says:

    *eyebrow*

    When? After the New Horizons returned to Earth, there was a thing about non-Families folk achieving longevity through “young blood”, but that was manufactured blood, rather than harvested a-la Countess Bathory.

    After that, the Long timeline mainly counted on rejuve and cloned parts.

    Wanna cite a source or so there, emdfl?

  16. E says:

    Oh, I certainly don’t want to go down the road to where people are OWED organs by the gov’t.
    You can expect greedy folks to try to corner any market. Life is at stake, so how do you imagine a solution that keeps the people with the highest stake from being shut out by the people with the keenest trading skill?

    That’s why I was trying to figure out if the market solution can address the touchy-feely issue of the needy folks who want to buy, but can’t. The current situation gives us needy folks who want to sell, but can’t. Which is better? Surely there is a balance that can be reached through an enlightened self-interest incentive program.

    You can’t sell a policy based on swapping suffering of poor folk around, so I think it makes sense to imagine a scenario in which the market can be helped to solve a problem, rather than just saying ‘the market will solve the problem’ and expecting folks (who vote) to swallow it.

    If libertarianism (small-L) works on the assumption that good people will do good things, I’m trying to imagine a good thing balancing out a free organ market, not a government mandate.

    -E

  17. Doug says:

    Regardless of markets….

    Why is it an opt-in issue to check the “Organ Donor” box on your license? Why isn’t it an opt-out issue? I bet half the people getting a driver’s license don’t even think about whether or not they want to be a donor; why not increase the supply available, since the original “owners” don’t seem to care one way or another?

  18. ChrisB says:

    Doug,

    It might have something to do with the fact that the state doesn’t own your body, if you want to increase supply why not just give people a financial incentive to donate?

    E,

    What is to stop a non-profit org from paying a donor a nominal fee for the organ and then giving the organ to a poor person in need? I’m sure Alec Baldwin and Susan Sarandon would contribute to that foundation, anyone who wants to help the poor is free to with their money and organs, and everyone else is free to auction the organs if they so choose. Isn’t it great how freedom and markets work?🙂

  19. ibex says:

    E,

    […]if the market solution can address the touchy-feely issue of the needy folks who want to buy, but can’t. The current situation gives us needy folks who want to sell, but can’t. Which is better?

    It’s not either-or, the current situation gives us buyers who can’t buy and sellers who can’t sell.

    So, paraphrasing the late George Carlin, boy who wants to buy a kidney meets girl who wants to sell a kidney. Sounds like a match made in heaven to me.

  20. “It might have something to do with the fact that the state doesn’t own your body, if you want to increase supply why not just give people a financial incentive to donate?”

    “The terms and conditions of this health insurance policy include the liquidation of your remains upon death, to account for or exceed any costs your insurer might or might not have suffered during the run of your policy”

  21. E says:

    I think I’ve been over-interpreted as proposing gov’t regulation of organ sales. That ain’t so.

    So, paraphrasing the late George Carlin, boy who wants to buy a kidney meets girl who wants to sell a kidney. Sounds like a match made in heaven to me.

    that’s obviously oversimplifying.
    I bet corporate traders will start dealing in organ futures. Gross.


    What is to stop a non-profit org from paying a donor a nominal fee for the organ and then giving the organ to a poor person in need?

    sounds good to me! that’s what I was after.

    I still like the organ sale tax exemption too – it bugs the snot out of me to think of the gov’t getting a cut of the sale of my meat.

    -E

  22. ChrisB says:

    [i]The terms and conditions of this health insurance policy include the liquidation of your remains upon death, to account for or exceed any costs your insurer might or might not have suffered during the run of your policy[/i]

    The primary issue is that of ownership, the person needs to agree with that clause in the contract, that’s if they even decide to have health insurance. My original point is still valid as the ownership of the organs is not by the state but by the individual. They need our permission before they’re scooped up and distributed.

  23. article: Donated skin is being processed into cosmetic-surgery products. Meanwhile, shortages can leave burn victims at lethal risk.

    I’m sure the solution is to have government step in with more regulation rather than less😉

Comments are closed.