Organ Markets

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Dec 8, 2011    •    843 Views

When a San Francisco court said that certain bone marrow donors could be paid, they did not have to focus on medicine. Instead, the 3 judge panel could have discussed the market.

The court said it was all about new technology that made bone marrow donation more similar to giving blood than an organ. While it is legal to pay a blood donor, compensating someone for an organ is a felony.

Instead though, we could say the case was about the size of the market. The judges’ decision, if it is not reversed, has expanded the bone marrow market. Originally, prohibited, now demand and supply will play a role in determining availability and price for bone marrow donations.

The Economic Lesson

The size of markets can differ and change. With prohibition, the size of the market for alcohol diminished. For votes, substitute SAT test takers and kidneys, markets are illegal. In Why Things Should Not Be For Sale, philosopher Debra Satz suggests 4 criteria that “make particular markets noxious” (p. 9).

  • Looking at participants, she cites 1) people who might be so poor or desperate that they are especially vulnerable and also those with little information that she characterizes as 2) having “weak agency.”
  • Looking at a market’s results, she suggests being aware of “extremely harmful outcomes” 3) for individuals and 4) for society.

With economist Russ Roberts, Dr. Satz discusses her perspective while in this Teaching Company lecture (#29), you might enjoy listening to a half hour discussion of issues that relate to organ transplant markets.

An Economic Question: Thinking of Dr. Satz’s criteria and others that emphasize the lives that would be saved if organs could be bought and sold, would you expand the market for human organs?

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