Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

A Moral Enigma

Amy Friedman points out, in the new BMJ (subscription only) that in the United States, it is generally perfectly legal for people to sell their blood, semen, and ova, and for women to rent their uteruses for surrogate pregnancy and, in Nevada, to rent their bodies for sex. People can also be paid to participate in clinical trials of drugs, in other words to rent out their bodies for experiments.

However, it is illegal to pay people for donations of kidneys or parts of their livers. People can donate these body parts for transplantation out of altruistic motives, but they can't even be compensated for travel costs and other non-medical expenses associated with the procedure. Since many people suffer and die from lack of suitable organ grafts, a market in organs from living donors would enhance the supply while providing an economic benefit to people who choose to take advantage of it.

Although, as Friedman notes, many people object that paying for organs would exploit the neediest, she points out that we pay for military service, which disproportionately attracts people with limited job prospects, and may be riskier than organ donation.

Yet there is something about this idea that just doesn't feel right to most people. Why is that? What, if anything, is wrong with this proposal?

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