Oct 30, 2011

Making Money Off Organ Donation

This religious fellow who was arrested the other day in new York for being an organ broker is another example of the discrepency in the system.

Everybody is making money off of organ donations, and it is all legal and allowed, except for the person giving up the organ. The doctor makes money off it. His entire team makes money off it. The organizations that arrange organ donation make money off it (not directly but through fundraising in the name of organ donation). The hospitals make money off it. The insurance companies make money off it.

Everyone, every step of the way, is making money off the organ donation. Except for the person giving up the organ. That person is the only person in the chain that is not allowed to find a way to make money off it.

Something seems wrong with the system.


  1. Freakonomics podcast dealt with this issue in a similar vein:


  2. Thats cuz once its legal, you will have poor people selling off organs despite health and insurance etc... Not saying that it should be worked out someway, but it could lead to real abuse.

  3. its like a rabbi being paid for his time and not being paid for teaching torah.

    The doctor is paid for his expertise. The organization is paid in general through funds, donations, grants etc.

    No one is selling anything. But what would happen if people were allowed to sell organ parts flat out? The poor and weak would become prey (more so than they already are).

    Which is why you can't sell organs or get paid to broker an organ donation.

  4. same difference. I understand the reason why not to allow it, but at the end of the day everyone is making money off it except the guy giving up the kidney

  5. and at the end of the day the rabbi is making money off the torah.

    how would you resolve the situation without turning people into cattle (more obviously than we already are)?

  6. I dont have a solution, just musing. and I dont disagree about your comparison. That is why until recent times rabbis held other jobs from which to support themselves, and the rabbi position was generally unpaid. Perhaps today rabbis are full time jobs is because it involves very little torah and a lot of therapy, psychology, management of the synagogue, etc.

    that possibility would apply to pulpit rabbis, but not to kollel and teachers and the like.

  7. In Iran, the sale of kidneys is legal (and thus regulated). As a result, there is no waiting list for kidneys.

    However, kidneys are pretty much the only organ you can donate while still alive. If you get money to donate your heart or lungs, there's not much point, since you need the money about as much as you need the donated organs at that point.

    What this guy did was act as a broker, circumventing the norms which ensure that organs go to the right people (as per medical ethics). Thus, people waiting for organs had to wait longer (and possibly die waiting) because someone lower down on the list used this guy.

  8. "orgns go to the right people". Is there really an objective criterion for who the "right" person is to get a kidney? UNOS uses reasonable nedical criteria covering the probability of success, also time on the waiting list, and so on. But they also make moral choices (e.g. children under 11 get bumped up a little). Not unreasonable, but I am not sure one can say that any other system would be unethical.

    Not sure about allowing selling of kidneys and liver lobes. Excploitation of the poor is a real problem. And the system in Iran is a good example. On the other hand, you could make sure the payoff to the donor is adequate in a regulated market, and also that the organs get prioritized for the recipients in what ever way society deems best.

    there has been much discussion in the US and in Israel about giving priority for organs to those who sign donor cards. Is that not a form of payment? Is cash so different? There are a great many people for whom, say, $100,000 is far more use than their second kidney. Probably enough to eliminate both waitng lists and long-term dialysis. If donors were given $50,000 or $100,000 plus a promise of lifetime renal care and priority for transplant should their remaining kidney fail would that be exploitative? (And don't tell me it is an unrealistic sum--it is about what a transplant costs now. Also less than 3 years of dialysis. No rule says the doctors need to get paid more than the donors.)

  9. Mike S.,

    You can argue day and night about what the best system is for determining who should receive a donated organ. However, some standard must be implemented, and it has, imperfect as it probably is (and as any standard would be). But the fact remains that brokering donated organs doesn't avoids the use of any moral standard.


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