Considering a Market in Human Organs

June 16, 2012

In 1963, Nobel Prize winning geneticist Joshua Lederberg predicted that medical advances would impose “intolerable economic pressures on transplant sources.” His prophetic statement has become more undeniably true as current altruistic methods for organ donation have failed to meet organ demand for more than thirty years. As a result of these failed organ procurement methods, along with moral and legal barriers to other procurement methods, thousands of people die each year from the organ supply failure. The lost lives and recent technological advances surrounding organ transplantation are leading to a reconsideration of alternatives to altruistic donation as the most effective means of organ procurement.
Advancing medical technology is a central consideration in the discussion because human ingenuity has created immeasurable lifesaving value in organs that was not previously possible. This technology-driven value increase has contributed to a developing tension between societal and individual rights over human organs and other valuable bodily derivatives. At the center of this tension is the battle to create some form of market for human organs. Throughout this paper, “market” will be used in its broadest sense, exchanging some form of valuable consideration for a human organ. Creating or not creating such a market will necessarily involve judgments about what weight should be given to the claims of society and those of the individual over organs as property. This article discusses the possibility of creating an organ market that respects individual autonomy, prevents exploitation, acknowledges the sanctity of human life, and increases the supply of human organs. Such a market may save thousands of lives each year.