As our knowledge of surgical and diagnostic techniques has increased with time, so has the success rate of organ transplants. However, the number of patients who require organ transplants exceeds the number of organs available, particularly if the patient has a rare blood type or belongs to an ethnic minority where organ donations are even lower than normal. For example, although black people are three times more likely than the general population to develop kidney failure, and the Asian community has a particularly high demand for organs, organ donation within these groups is relatively low. It is important for the donor and recipient to have the same blood type and similar genetic make-up in order to minimize the change of the receiver’s body rejecting the organ. More than 10,000 people in the UK currently need a transplant, and 1,000 people die every year while on the waiting list. In the US, over 100,000 people are still on the waiting list. Although these figures are astonishing in themselves, the genuine figure is probably higher, inflated by the deaths of patients who are never waitlisted for a transplant. Some patients are never placed on the waiting list because they have certain habits – such as smoking – and the precious few organs available are prioritised for patients who fit recipient categories.
The sale of human organs offers a possible solution to this crippling shortage of organs. There is already an established black market trade in organs. Entrepreneurs offer British and Western patients the opportunity to receive privately financed transplants in countries such as India and Malaysia. In 2006, investigators discovered that Chinese hospitals were providing organ transplants using the organs of executed prisoners. In 1983, Dr. Barry Jacobs requested that the US government should create a fund to compensate the families who donate the organs of their deceased relatives. He also proposed a business plan to buy kidneys from living donors to transplant to American patients. However, these is still plenty of opposition to these ideas, and the National Organ Transplantation Act of 1984 still prohibits the sale of human organs from both dead and living donors.
The proposition line could argue that organs are the property of the donors, and so they have a right to do with them as they wish. In this case of buying human organs, it is much easier to argue that the profits would go to the donor rather than (for example) hospitals or governments which may not have a vested interest in those concerned. It would be useful to outline in the mechanism that these organs will be transferred through a unique medical group or business which has the technology available to match up donors to potential recipients and so avoid potential medical complications as far as possible. After this, it would be like any other financial transaction. This debate will focus on the United Kingdom, but the arguments would be relevant to most countries considering this policy change.
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