Sunday, July 26, 2009

Markets in Everything: Black Market Kidneys

DAILY NEWS -- The international black market for kidneys — preying on the desperate and run by a shadowy network of greedy organ brokers — is flourishing, a Daily News probe found. The arrest of a Brooklyn man Thursday on organ trafficking charges sheds a new spotlight on an underground business where wretchedly poor foreigners — particularly in India — are paid $2,000 to $10,000 for kidneys.

Those kidneys are ultimately sold for as much as $180,000 to transplant recipients who otherwise could die. More than 80,000 Americans were waiting for kidney transplants as of last week, the United Network for Organ Sharing said.

The wait for a suitable legitimate donor is as long as three years, which drives many to the underground market, experts said.


HT: Johnny Hsu

MP: Per-capita GDP in India is $2,762 and $47,000 in the U.S., according to the IMF. In other words, Indians are willing to sell kidneys for up to 3.62 times their per-capita income (GDP), and Americans are willing to pay about 3.82 times their per-capita income to receive a kidney. On an income-adjusted basis, it seems like it could be a fair deal for both the Indian seller and the Amercian buyer, so what's the problem?

20 Comments:

At 7/26/2009 9:25 PM, Blogger BenGraham said...

Well, the problem is that, most of the time, selling your kidney is not a matter of free choice, but an act of pure desperation. If your condition is so dire that you have no alternative but to auction off your own body, you are not entering such a transaction in a free way, meaningfully free. As much as I like some libertarian inclinations (and I read Gary Becker), sometimes they seem to rely on a concept of free choice so abstract and detached from reality, that it looks like an empty shell.

 
At 7/26/2009 9:41 PM, Blogger Thomas J. Lucente Jr. said...

Ben,

First, I would say it is still a choice.

Second, using your example, is it not more humane to allow the poor wretch in that situation to sell his or her kidney than to let the person suffer with no options at all? Is not the "poor" choice (in your mind) better than no choice?

 
At 7/26/2009 9:42 PM, Blogger vakeraj said...

Ben, you sound just like the statists that tell us that our free will must be contained for our own good. Desperation is irrelevant; the sale of a kidney (or liver, another commonly-donated organ) is a transaction undertaken that BENEFITS both parties. Would you rather have a poor Indian and a dead American? This trade has the potential to lift people out of poverty AND save lives. Only in the book of government is that a problem.

 
At 7/26/2009 10:07 PM, Blogger misterjosh said...

My money's on organ cloning becoming successful before the over-protective government allows people freedom to decide what happens to their own bodies.

 
At 7/26/2009 10:45 PM, Blogger BenGraham said...

As I said, most of the time, it would be without question an act of desperation. Now: when such desperation is the motive for selling a kidney, to what degree can we argue that the decision is genuinely voluntary? It's not a secondary issue; actually, it cuts to the heart of what we want our society to be like, and I feel I'm more concerned with freedom than you are. The difference is that you don't see, say, extreme poverty as a relevant form of coercion, whereas I do.
Of course, this is a very different situation:
http://www.lifesharers.org.

 
At 7/26/2009 11:34 PM, Anonymous Slicendice said...

There's the issue of organ stealing as well. If you can sell a kidney in a kidney market, why not take someone else's kidneys and sell them. Then you can do it more than once.

If you don't think this could happen, check your Inbox from eight years ago. Every other spam was about waking up in a bathtub full of ice with your kidneys cut out.

But really, it can happen somewhere other than the imagination of some online scammer.

 
At 7/27/2009 12:28 AM, Blogger Angela said...

Ben,

The donor is the only person in the whole system who isn't allowed to profit from the deal.

Coercion? Bah.

 
At 7/27/2009 2:44 AM, Blogger randian said...

If you can sell a kidney in a kidney market, why not take someone else's kidneys and sell them.

Because it's

A) Immoral
B) Illegal
C) Really, really hard to do anonymously. If that actually happens, every surgeon in the city suddenly becomes a suspect. That isn't very many people in the scheme of things. An unskilled hack will damage the kidney and make it unviable, so the supposed organlegging ring needs to recruit a real licensed surgeon.

The answer is DNA verification prior to implantation. Unmarked organs entering the system get flagged.

 
At 7/27/2009 2:51 AM, OpenID freemarketmojo said...

Would people be permitted to sell their organs legally, the black market would be eliminated, the supply of kidneys would increase, the costs would decrease, and the seller’s safety would be ensured.

Legalizing kidney sales would provide those who need kidneys far better—and legal—access. Moreover, when it’s a life or death situation, people will consult the black market for their remedies. Kidney purchases are no exception.

 
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At 7/27/2009 6:02 AM, Blogger 1 said...

Thanks for the spam TSR...

"Now: when such desperation is the motive for selling a kidney, to what degree can we argue that the decision is genuinely voluntary?"...

Short of having a gun held to the head of the potential kidney donor its ALWAYS VOLUNTARY...

I think the only reason there's an organ shortage is that individuals and family estates are prodded, brown beaten to DONATE viable organs instead of selling them...

 
At 7/27/2009 8:54 AM, Blogger BenGraham said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 7/27/2009 8:56 AM, Blogger BenGraham said...

Talk of freedom and autonomy is hollow if those with no options must choose to sell their kidneys in order to purchase life's necessities. In addition, too often the sellers will lack relevant information and not be able to think of anything else but to risk their health by selling their organs, simply because they are poor. Like the guy in Pakistan, Nawas, featured in a recent CNN story: he sold his kidney in order to pay off his debt, but now he's too weak to work the long hours to earn what he could before and is caught in another cycle of poverty. Of course, in your view, there's no problem: after all, he did miscalculate, and now he's merely paying the price for his wrong cost-benefit analysis! Moreover, it's hard to imagine that there will be numerous persons in Western nations eager to sell a kidney: this has been the exact experience with markets in egg sales and paid surrogacy. Ultimately, the whole thing would very likely result in a form of exploitation.

 
At 7/27/2009 9:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Forced labor by political prisoners is a fact in some countries. The party bosses could work out early release for prisoners that "reform" themselves by having a kidney cut. The political bosses would then be able to brag about freeing prisoners who previously were the opposition. Party cronies would be enriched by a very opaque market.

This is a market that screams for gallatic regulation.

 
At 7/27/2009 11:21 AM, Blogger Bill Linstrom said...

It's a moral issue. Can one sell themselves into slavery? In times past, yes. Now? No. If one can't sell all of themselves, how about part of themselves? Where is the moral line drawn?

 
At 7/27/2009 2:33 PM, Blogger 1 said...

"Where is the moral line drawn?"...

Where ever the individual wants (regardless of reason) to set it for him or her self...

Bill Linstrom do you have a problem with freedom of individual choice?

 
At 7/27/2009 3:36 PM, Blogger Marco P. said...

Your idea of freedom is quite interesting. The truth of the matter is: this guy in Pakistan is as free as a bird in a cage.

http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/asiapcf/07/16/pakistan.organ.selling.photos/

 
At 7/27/2009 7:56 PM, Blogger randian said...

Where is the moral line drawn?

In my view, the only moral question is "do you own your body, or does your neighbor?" If you answer "you do", then there is no principled objection to organ sales. There is no moral difference between damaging your body via expensive surgery and doing so via smoking or cocaine. If anything, organ donation is a far better choice because you get compensated for the damage. Whether that compensation is sufficient according to your calculation is irrelevant; the only calculation that should matter is the donor's.

 
At 7/27/2009 8:25 PM, Blogger Michael said...

The trade benefits would be enormous for both sides of that deal on an income adjusted basis.

 
At 7/30/2009 7:41 AM, Blogger LoneSnark said...

My God! What if organ sales were legal! As the sales are taking place anyways, imagine if instead of getting paid $2000 for their organ, the indian in question got closer to the U.S. market price!?!? That would be enough money to revolutionize their life!

 

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