An estimated 5,000 people die every year waiting for a kidney donation. Fathers, sisters, cousins, friends and coworkers—their lives stripped away from them despite the vast majority of people having a kidney to spare. This is largely attributed to the fact that the U.S. has prohibited open organ markets since the mid 1980’s, only allowing organs to be obtained by donation.
Of course, asking for an organ donation is a huge favor. After all, who wants to undergo the long and painful process of having a kidney taken out and giving it to a stranger for free? There’s nothing to gain from doing so, unless, of course, you’re saving a loved one.
That’s why I implore policymakers to legalize an open market for kidneys. By putting a price on organs, people are provided incentives to give up their kidneys, increasing the supply of kidneys available. For the quantity demanded, there will be a supply to satisfy it.
There are several economic benefits to doing so, in addition to easier and faster access to kidneys. A healthier workforce improves the nation’s productivity, allowing for less people to require medical attention and more people to be working. Consumption would also increase because more people are able to spend the money they earn on goods and services, which in turn improves the nation’s GDP. Finally, because the supply of organs is increased considerably, the price per organ will be much more affordable. Currently, a kidney transplant is worth about $250,000. Meanwhile, those waiting on kidneys undergo dialysis, which cost an estimated $70,000 per year. If kidney payments are legalized, patients may save up to $600,000 during their lifetimes.
Of course, opponents of such loosened restrictions have their concerns. Many worry that a black market will emerge because some will be unable to access organs. Others fear that the amount of donations will dwindle. And perhaps the greatest concern is that because kidneys can now be exchanged for money, involuntary donations will be rampant, with scenarios ranging from secretly slicing organs from the recently deceased, to mass murder to obtain organs for profit.
The best place to look for answers to these concerns is perhaps Iran, where open kidney markets are legal. The country has virtually eliminated all black markets for organ sale. There have been no signs of involuntary donations in the past 20 years, and Iran has one of the highest rates of “pure” organ donations in the world. The $1,200 per year a donor receives from the Iranian government is a sweet bonus.
The sentiment behind prohibition of organ sales is understandable. It’s not an issue that affects the majority of people. Yet this issue can be mitigate thousands of deaths if we shape public policy. A world where everybody who demands a kidney receives a kidney is a better one, which is why legalizing organ sales could be a huge public health victory.