Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Organ Selling

I just got back from the Philosophy Club meeting. This week's guest
was Dr. Benjamin Hippen, a transplant nephrologist and expert on the
ethics and practice of kidney transplantation. He is working to
overturn the law against paying kidney donors. His proposal, as I
understand it, is very cautious. He wants to set up a system, with
all of the appropriate controls, where the government would pay for
kidneys and then offer them to people on the transplant list. Because
the government pays so much money for dialysis, which does not help
people nearly as much as a transplant, they would save money. The
'break-even' point is about $130,000 per kidney.

He was actually a Philosophy major as an undergraduate, so he was very
comfortable dealing with all of the possible objections to the plan.
All of us at the Philosophy club basically agreed with his proposal,
and it is very rare to find an issue that we can agree on.

This is an issue where the framing of the proposal is very important.
If you say 'we are buying kidneys for $100,000' then people will
object. But if you say 'We are giving people free health care for
life if they donate a kidney' then suddenly it seems like a perfectly
fair and sensible thing to do. It removes the icky feeling of selling
body parts, and $100,000 is more than enough to pay for lifetime
health insurance for someone who is healthy enough to be a suitable
kidney donor.

Hopefully the bill will be introduced before the senate this year.
This is one of those interesting issues where party affiliation has no
relationship to how people feel on the issue. I certainly hope it
will be a success, and I think this guy has the ability to make it

One note: Hippen is not a Libertarian, and was almost apologetic about
working with the Cato Institute to publicize his work. But they were
the only ones who would help him. And even they were hesitant,
because his research paper basically says "Iran has a system for
selling kidneys, and it is working great." Cato did not approve of
looking to Iran for inspiration on anything, but the facts are the


Policy Paper:

I have learned that Dr. Hippen actually does think of himself as a libertarian. But it is still true that he is more practical, and more comfortable with regulation, than a lot of hard-core Libertarians.

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