Sunday, December 31, 2006

Economics of Body Parts

Reason Magazine asks the questions "Who Owns Your Organs?" in an article about the increasingly bizarre proprietary status of human body parts.

Body parts aren’t legal property to the people born with them, but can be distributed by doctors, universities, biotech companies, and procurement agencies for profit or otherwise.

Organ donation stands as a sort of command economy of gifting: Donors have little say over where their organs go after they die, and procurement professionals prefer that donations simply go to the centralized donor list compiled by the United Network for Organ Sharing. Anonymous donations are prized as pure, but run contrary to the sort of relationship-building that motivates cultures of gifting in the first place.


At 12/31/2006 12:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The short version and full article suggest that organs can be taken without permission, but that is not the case. Once they are voluntarily given, then control is lost. Typically, the nearest relative has to give the permission, but in Michgan, a "patient advocate" can be designated by the patient to assume medical control once the patient becomes unable to make medical decisions, and to make (or not make) organ donations.
Some organs can be used from patients as old as 94 - don't let the article deter you from helping someone, whoever it may be.

At 12/31/2006 4:44 PM, Blogger Dave Undis said...

The REASON article refers to a New York State court decision available here:

The court's decision was expressly based on the fact that the kidney at the center of the case was not medically compatible with the intended donee. The result may well have been different if the kidney was usable.

The decision does NOT mean that future directed donations of organs to named individuals will not be honored. In fact, an amicus brief filed by UNOS and others states "The UAGA establishes the parameters of donor consent for organ donation. This includes the donor’s ability to specify which organs and tissues are to be gifted, to whom, and the purpose for which the gift can be used. Conditions on the anatomical gift are legally enforceable under the UAGA."

Directed donation can play a big part in reducing the organ shortage. LifeSharers, a national network of organ donors, is using directed donation to create an incentive for people to donate. LifeSharers members direct that their organs be offered first to other members. By creating a pool of organs available first to registered organ donors, LifeSharers creates an incentive for non-donors to become donors. Membership in LifeSharers is free and open to all at There is no age limit, parents can enroll their minor children, and no one is excluded due to any pre-existing medical condition.


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