A Market for Human Organs?

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Advances in medical treatments have resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of organ transplants performed each year. However, a limited supply of organs prevents many individuals from receiving transplants that could either save their life or drastically improve it. The National Organ Transplant Act of 1984 prohibited payment to those who provided organs for transplantation. Nonetheless, the growing imbalance between the demand for transplantable organs and their supply in the United States and other countries has fueled concerns about black markets in body parts and led to debate about the sale of human organs in a federally-regulated market. This issue is increasingly significant because thousands of people die every year waiting for an organ donation.

Jeffery M. Prottas, an ethics committee member of the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), believes that organ donation and procurement should be more than "a moral enterprise" and "a mechanism for giving reality to altruism," but that it should also be defined as a not-for-profit "industry" engaged in "selling altruism," (Reich, 1930). Supporters of a market for human organs, like Prottas, argue that the chronic shortage of organs for transplant could be reduced or eliminated if donors, or their survivors, were paid for use of their organs. According to UNOS, in 2002, there were 12,801 deceased and living organ donors and 24,900 successful organ transplants, but there were still 6,187 people who died while waiting for organs. Supporters argue that the promise of money could motivate many people who otherwise would not consider donation to offer their organs. They claim that it would provide income to someone who needs money and an organ to someone who needs a transplant, creating a win-win situation. A second argument in favor of the purchase and sale of human organs is the issue of personal autonomy, which sets forth the presumption that individual personal health choices should be left up to the...
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