By Gary Becker
THERE were about 50,000 persons on the waiting list for kidney transplants in the United States in the year 2000, but only about 15,000 kidney transplant operations were performed. This implies an average wait of almost four years before a person on the waiting list could receive a kidney transplant.
In addition, the cumulative gap between demand and supply for livers was over 10,000, which implies an average wait for a liver transplant of a couple of years.
In 2000, almost 3,000 Americans died while waiting for a kidney transplant, and half that number died while waiting for a liver transplant. Many also died in other countries while in the queue for an organ transplant. Some of these people would have died anyway from other causes, but there is little doubt that most died too early because they were unable to replace their defective organs quickly enough.
If altruism were sufficiently powerful, the supply of organs would be large enough to satisfy the demand, and there would be no need to change the present system. But this is not the case in any country that does a significant number of transplants. While the per capita number of organs donated has grown over time, demand has grown even faster. As a result, the length of the queue for organ transplants has grown significantly over time in most countries, despite exhortations and other attempts to encourage greater giving of organs.
In recent years, the US has taken several steps to improve the allocation of available organs among those needing them, such as giving greater priority to those who could benefit the most. These steps have helped, but they have not stopped the queues from growing, nor have they prevented large numbers of persons from dying while waiting for transplants.
Some countries use an 'opt out' system for organs, which means that cadaveric organs can be used for transplants unless persons who died had