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Jewish World Review Oct. 5, 1999 /25 Tishrei, 5760

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Organs for sale: implications and opinions -- ACCORDING TO the United Network for Organ Sharing, there are 65,300 Americans waiting for an organ transplant. The main problem facing these folks is a desperate shortage of donated organs. The fall 1997 Cato Journal reports that "During 1996, the number of people waiting for transplants vs. the number of transplants supplied, respectively, were: kidneys 36,013 vs. 11,949; livers 7,467 vs. 4,058; pancreas 1,786 vs. 1,022; hearts 3,935 vs. 2,381; and lungs 2,546 vs. 844.

Clearly, for many, waiting lists are a deadly experience. Some folks think they may have found a new source for needed organs. The first week of September saw a flurry of organs offered -- for sale -- on the Internet. The New York Times reported on Sept. 3 that "Bidding for a human kidney, described on the Internet auction site Ebay as 'fully functional,' began at $25,000 and reached $5,750,100 before the company abruptly ended the auction" because The National Organ Transplant Act of 1984 makes the sale or purchase of human organs punishable by up to five years in prison or a $50,000 fine.

I wondered what the listeners to my radio program would think of buying and selling organs, rather than waiting for cadaver donations. So I asked on air whether people ought to be able to sell their organs if they so wished. The answers came in rapidly.

The conclusion of this very unscientific survey was that 57 percent of the respondents believed that it should be illegal for an individual to sell one of his/her own organs to the highest bidder, while 43 percent disagreed. Although a number of the respondents voiced interesting issues on both sides of the question, no one sat on the fence.

Registering on the "No" side was a physician who, however, wondered whether, if his beloved wife were dying of kidney failure and received a DONATED organ, she could "make a token payment, be it $5,000 or 10 bucks, so that the donor could claim a tax deduction -- on the same theory that allows folks to claim a deduction when they donate their aged automobiles?" Great question.

Other objections to people having the right to sell their "extra organs while still alive" were:

-- "If organs are for sale, our nation will stoop to an even lower level of loss of sanctity of life by not only disregarding God's creation within themselves, but by very likely creating more murders for organ harvesting -- possibly on the black market."

-- "Imagine being sued, having no money to pay up and feeling compelled to give up an organ to pay our bills!"

-- "It is not fair to humanity that once again only the upper class and rich would win and we in the middle class a

nd most certainly the lower class of humanity would never have a chance to live." -- "Only the highest bidder, not the most sick and needy, would benefit."

-- "A lot of my decisions have been to satisfy an immediate problem. Needing money has been an immediate problem, and the money that I make from the kidney would satisfy that, but in the long run, I may need the kidney back!"

-- "A dominant man may force his submissive wife to sell her organs for cash."

The "Yes" side has some pretty compelling arguments, too. The most powerful:

-- "Consider also that EVERYBODY ELSE in the process charges for their products and services. People GIVE their blood to the Red Cross, but the Red Cross SELLS that blood to hospitals, and the hospitals sell both the blood and its delivery to the patient. People donate the organs of their deceased loved ones, but everybody else in the process is paid: The organ harvesting teams, the organ transport teams, and the organ transplantation teams are all paid; the hospital charges for the room and supplies. Everybody gets paid but the donor."

Adding insult to injury, one man talked about a woman who agreed to donate her newly deceased husband's organs. The organs "were removed ... then a few weeks later she received bills from the doctors who removed those donated organs, demanding to be paid for the posthumous operation. She did not pay the bill."

The common suggestion was that if donation was such a great idea, how about requiring that everybody having anything to do with organ transplantation donate their service and supplies. The obvious answer is that staff would no longer be available. Many respondents indicated that this is precisely the problem with not paying for organ donations -- the supply stays limited.

Other opinions were:

-- "Why not? We sell hair, blood, eggs and sperm, and embryos."

-- "Yes, you should be able to sell any body part that does not make you a social burden, i.e., welfare recipient on the Social Security payroll."

-- "Commercialization and capitalism make any given commodity more available and less expensive."

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©1999, Universal Press Syndicate