Saturday, December 24, 2005

Legal to Give, Illegal to Sell

Stories like this one showcase the generous, caring nature of individuals who are willing to go through risky surgeries to donate a kidney to save the life of another person. With well known sayings like, "'tis better to give than to receive," who can deny that giving up an organ is a noble thing to do?

While it may be better to give than to receive, the truth is that few people choose to give up an organ during the course of their lives, especially to a stranger. We hear of cases where someone has donated a kidney to a loved one, but rarely do we hear of cases where someone has donated a kidney to a complete stranger. The reasons are obvious. The surgery is inherently risky, the recovery can be costly and difficult, and the gain is limited by law to the warm fuzzy feeling obtained from helping someone.

From elementary economics, we know that when maximum prices are imposed on a valued item, the quantity supplied declines. In this case, the maximum price is zero. Naturally, the number of organs supplied decreases. For this reason, people wait for years for a matching donor, and often die waiting.

It is selfish to demand that people's generosity be the only means of obtaining an organ because we don't like the idea of profit-motivated people selling a kidney to a dying person. Should I be required to rely on the generosity of others for food, shelter, medicine or other items necessary for me to live? I would expect that I would be much less likely to obtain any of those items and stories about how a generous food donor saved my life would start making headlines.

No comments: