How strange

Bird finds out that there\’s lots of money in body parts. But that the people offering the body parts don\’t get it, the law insists that they don\’t.

Ergo, there\’s a shortage of body parts available. Bird\’s conclusion?

So by the end of my experiment, I saw some dizzying prices, but didn\’t end up with much in my wallet. While it\’s ridiculous that people who are willing to donate bodily fluids as harmless as urine and saliva for crucial medical cannot be paid, I did end up coming around to the old-fashioned idea that altruism must drive any decision to donate. Women who donate eggs, or those who choose to give away a kidney must not be coerced by money to meet their bills. I don\’t know the answer to the UK\’s terrible shortage in eggs or kidneys, but I do know that the answer is not in writing a giant cheque.

How weird is that?

She\’s actually used the example of how there\’s no shortage of eggs in the US as there\’s a free market in them.

13 thoughts on “How strange”

  1. Well she’s reasonably right – altruism tends to drive decisions to donate (status being another driver of donations).

    But this is simply a matter of definition, the word for exchanging an organ, or anything else, for money is “sell”.

  2. From the comments:

    “That hardly counts as renting your body out, does it? Nor does selling by-products such as fingernails or urine.

    If you really wanted to exploit your body you should have used your undoubted good looks to get someone to commission you to make an utterly spurious documentary”

  3. Indeed, it involves 2-4 weeks (depending on the regimen) of daily injections to the abdomen. With luck this will result in 15-20 follicles developing at 1-2 cm in diameter. Carrying round a something the size of a bunch of grapes not surprising leads to a degree of bloating. If this has resulted in eggs being produced for harvesting – not guaranteed – it finishes with a 90 minute operation under general anaesthetic to extract the eggs. It is as you say Tim, very much more involved than simply donating a pint of blood.

  4. Sometimes, not everything is as it seems. I have heard that the supply of blood for transfusions works much better (in terms of quality) when it is donated, than when paid for. And the money can be better spent elsewhere.

    I wonder if the same might be said of the RNLI.

  5. I wonder if she’d agree to Ilya Somin’s suggestion to restrict organ markets to people earning in the top 50% of incomes, to get around the concern about poor people feeling coerced to sell their organs.

  6. Nautical Nick, I have read this (I think Freakonomics mentions it). I think the idea is that when donated for free, it is an altruistic act and so no one who knows they have bad blood will donate. This sounds fairly plausible and for as long as we have enough donors who donate under this system, then it is clearly better to rely on such donors; better blood and cheaper, its a no brainer.

    However, with some products of human origin, the supply is well short of demand. We are then back to our host’s oft made point about tradeoffs. Do we accept that some people will go without, whilst those that do not go without will receive better quality product, or do we think it better that more people receive lower quality product.

    Given the massive difference in personal inconvenience between donating blood, compared with donating other products, it is not surprising that just because altruism may provide enough blood, it does not provide enough kidneys, eggs, or other products.

  7. “Tracy W // Aug 14, 2012 at 11:27 am
    I wonder if she’d agree to Ilya Somin’s suggestion to restrict organ markets to people earning in the top 50% of incomes, to get around the concern about poor people feeling coerced to sell their organs.”

    At first glance that seems daft – people in the top 50% of incomes would have the least incentives to *sell* organs.

  8. Agammamon: People in the top 50% of incomes may indeed have less of an incentive to sell organs than people in the bottom 50%. But what matters is that they agree to sell them.

    Average incomes in the UK are apparently around £26,000 a year. The cost-benefit of providing a kidney to someone on dialysis is apparently £3,500 in the first year and £23,500 for each following year, and the kidney transplant apparently will last about 9 years on average.

    Given these figures, a one-off payment to healthy people of £20,000 per kidney would still leave a very impressive cost-benefit analysis from the point of view of the NHS.

    Being paid £20,000 for an organ would I think induce some people making £26,000 a year or above to sell an organ. If not, more money could be paid.
    (Note, if you think £26,000 a year is too low to avoid fears of people being forced to sell organs, then the minimum income before selling could be raised of course, to the top 30%, or 20%, or whatever).

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