Buy or Die

Josh Wright —  2 June 2006

AEI is hosting an event focusing on the problems of the nation’s shortage of vital organs. The website has links to the papers. The event agenda includes my friend and colleague Lloyd Cohen, who has done a good deal of work in this area (including this). Here’s the event description:

The nation’s system for procuring and distributing vital organs is badly broken. Demand vastly outstrips supply. Today, there are over 92,000 people waiting for organs, mostly kidneys, and each day eighteen of them will die before they get one. The wait in many locations is over five years and by 2010, it is expected to double.

The waiting list, maintained by the United Network for Organ Sharing under a monopoly contract with the Department of Health and Human Services, cannot distribute organs any faster than they become available. Unfortunately, some key members of the transplant community insist that desperate patients simply wait their turn, even if the price of patience is death. More and more, however, concerned physicians, ethicists, legal scholars, and economists are urging dramatic reform, including legislative change to permit compensation to donors.

Although donor altruism is an inspiring virtue, generosity as public policy falls short. Panelists at this event will discuss incentives, including payment, as a viable remedy to enhance the supply of lifesaving organs.

For other recent takes on organ donation, financial incentives, and the basic economics of price controls, see Richard Epstein’s recent post at the U. Chicago Law Blog, Epstein’s WSJ op-ed, Don Boudreaux (with other references), as well as Gary Becker’s excellent post (and response to comments) and research paper on organ markets.

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  1. TRUTH ON THE MARKET » Buy or Die, Update - June 5, 2006

    […] Via Marginal Revolution, I came across this letter from the National Kidney Foundation to the AEI in anticipation of AEI’s upcoming event (June 12th) addressing the national organ shortage (previous post here). Here’s an excerpt: The officers and staff of the National Kidney Foundation (NKF) were surprised to learn that AEI has scheduled a forum entitled “Buy or Die: Market Mechanisms to Reduce the National Organ Shortage” that will be held on June 12, 2006. We agree that there should be open discussion of all reasonable approaches to increase organ donation, and that the shortage of organs for transplantation deserves greater attention by policy makers. Nevertheless, we believe that the concept of financial incentives has been adequately debated for 15 years, begining with the National Kidney Foundation’s 1991 workshop on “Controversies in Organ Donation,” and culminating in the definitive Institute of Medicine (IOM) report that was issued late in April 2006. We don’t see how an AEI forum would contribute substantively to debate on this issue. […]