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October 16, 2007

In a move that is likely to stir debate, medical and public policy groups are suggesting some fundamental changes in the way we regard organ transplantation.

Consider the case at a New York medical center where a woman and her brother were both operated on at the same time. One of the woman’s kidneys was removed, but not for transplanting into her brother. Instead her organ went to a man she had never met.

At the same time, another woman had her kidney removed to give to the first woman’s brother (once again donor and recipient had never met). This idea was mutally beneficial, since donors and recipients were good tissue matches for each other. The operations were timed to occur at exactly the same moment, so no one could back out.

How much is a new kidney worth? With the advent of these so-called “paired exchanges” (the first was in 2001), some advocates are suggesting that kidneys should be considered commodities – that people could offer their own kidneys for sale.

A moment’s reflection will reveal some of the dangers of this idea. Think of the exploitation of the poor that might occur with schemes like this. After all, this has already happened in other countries, where rich foreigners “buy” organs – a sort of “transplant tourism” (see my blog post on this).

It is a disturbing thought that our body parts might be for sale. This seems like a bad solution to the problem of a shortage of donor organs. Such commodification of ourselves can only add to the devaluation of human beings throughout society.

[General News Article]
[Kidney Swap Article]

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